From the Vital Voices Global Network of Leaders
At Vital Voices, we’re proud to celebrate Black women leaders leading the charge for change and facing the world’s toughest challenges head on. We know from our decades of work the importance not just of women’s leadership, but of Black women’s leadership in particular — delivering strength and perseverance, and highlighting the willingness and ability to show up and fight for the common good.
Whether it’s women leaders making headlines by fighting for free and fair elections like Fair Fight Action Founder Stacey Abrams, breaking barriers like Vital Voices Board Member Amanda Gorman, assuming one of the highest offices in the nation like Vice President Kamala Harris, or those taking charge in corporate offices, pushing advocacy forward, caring for communities or doing the hard work without global acclaim — when Black women lead, we all win.
This Black History Month, be sure you’re following a few of the Black women leaders making history now. Check out a few* of the thousands of women leaders across the Vital Voices network who are reshaping our future, boldly dismantling institutions built to perpetuate racism, inequality and injustice and using their power to empower others.
Vital Voices Network leader and Board member Amanda Gorman has been dubbed the ‘voice of our generation’ after her awe-inspiring performance at the Biden Presidential inauguration. And while she’s recently garnered global attention, it is important to note that she’s been honing her talent and using her words to push issues forward for years. While still in high school, Amanda was a youth delegate for the United Nations, selected as the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, published her first poetry book, and joined the Vital Voices network as a HERLead Fellow. At 19 years old, Amanda became the first National Youth Poet Laureate and this year became youngest-ever Inaugural poet. Amanda is poised to become one of the greatest voices of our time and reminds us what young women can accomplish when we invest in their leadership journey over time.
Bozoma Saint John
Vital Voices Board Member Bozoma “Badass Boz” Saint John is one of the top marketing minds in the country. She uses her voice, platform and power to empower others to stand UP and stand OUT! Making history as the Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, Boz has a reputation for transforming household names like Apple and Uber into brands that make bold statements and take bold actions. Throughout her career, she’s worked to redesign existing systems and launch campaigns to better include BIWOC, like the #sharethemicnow initiative where 52 Black women took over the accounts of 52 white women to uplift the stories of BIWOC and highlight their important work in catalyzing change. “Badassboz” is a trailblazer and disruptor — embodying the very concept of women’s empowerment.
Baltimore beauty entrepreneur and VV Grow Fellow Takia Ross has built her businesses with creativity and resilience. Takia is the owner of a unique and innovative make-up artistry company that is reimaging the make-up industry, Accessmatized, as well as the roving beauty studio Pretty Mobile, Baltimore DMV’s first mobile make-up studio. Before becoming a full-time makeup artist, Takia taught history in Baltimore City Public Schools, the Community College of Baltimore County and Morgan State University when she began to draw the attention and business of her students with her immaculate daily makeup regimen. They encouraged her to start her own company, and today, Accessmatized is continuing to innovate despite COVID-19. Takia is harnessing her power to support and advocate for small businesses in her community, helping others navigate coronavirus-related legislative changes and government resources!
2020 Global Leadership Awards Honoree Joy Buolamwini is a poet of code who uses art and research to illuminate the social implications of artificial intelligence. A pioneer at the intersection of tech and racial justice, while working on an engineering project as a graduate student, she discovered that she had to use a white mask to be detected by facial analysis technology. The experience was jarring, and sparked Joy’s curiosity. She started looking into the many ways that AI not only excludes entire groups of people but also causes harm, affecting areas of criminal justice, employment, healthcare and access to finance. Now, Joy leads groundbreaking research that has exposed racial and gender bias in technologies developed by several Silicon Valley giants and is the founder of Algorithmic Justice League, an organization that uses art and research to expose algorithmic bias and harms while advocating for industry and policy changes.
Since age 15, Vital Voices woman leader Jamira Burley has been on a mission to lead systemic and sustainable change that improves the lives of young people around the world. She’s been recognized as a UN Global Education First Ambassador, a FORBES 30 under 30 Honoree, and by President Obama as a White House Champion of Change because of her work in consulting and sharing her experiences on issues ranging from youth engagement, education reform, gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. As an internationally recognized social justice advocate, youth activist, speaker and the Founder of GenYNOT- a youth platform dedicated to allowing young people be the experts of their own experience and create solution-driven dialogue — Jamira is poised to break barriers and make history — set apart from the rest by her ardor for social change. Plus, she joined fellow Vital Voices network member Ariela Suster to create I am Here to — a new, inclusive platform to ignite personal revolution.
Listen in to Jamira’s interview with Hillary Clinton from Vital Voices’ NowThis NEXT Event, and her reflections after the George Floyd murder on the Black Lives Matter movement and the path forward on the Vital Voices podcast.
Inspired to become a lawyer by her personal hero, civil rights icon and US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Leadership Incubator Fellow Angel Harris is a staunch activist for equal access to justice and has dedicated her entire career to criminal justice reform believing that now is the time to reimagine a criminal court system rooted in rehabilitation, not mass incarceration. Angel is a nationally recognized expert on criminal justice and civil rights issues, and is the co-founder of the Black Womxn Lawyers Collective, a platform providing Continuing Legal Education courses with a comprehensive intersectional framework rooted in advocacy with and for women, children and communities of color taught by Black women lawyers. Recently elected to the New Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge-elect, Section L, Angel unapologetically uses her power to empower others by challenging systems of racism, sexism and classism.
Director of Youth Engagement for Youth Over Guns, HERLead Fellow and VV Network Member Alliyah Logan is working to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Following her and her brother’s experiences in the public high school environment in the Bronx, where she saw students exposed to the “prison industrial complex,” Alliyah began advocating to stop over-policing in predominantly Black high schools in NY and to break up the school-to-prison pipeline. Alliyah is a former advisor for the UN Foundation’s Girl Up Initiative, where she was recognized for her work in advocating for human rights for girls around the world. Now a UNICEF Youth Advocate, Alliyah is solely focused on using her power to empower others by advocating for better safety in communities, equity in education and gender equality, with the foundation of her work centered on empowering Black youth.
Watch Alliyah’s acceptance speech after being honored with GirUp’s Girl Heroes award, in conversation with activist Tarana Burke.
Tina Frundt is the Founder and Executive Director of Courtney’s House, which provides direct services for domestic sex trafficked youth, ages 11–21 in the Washington, DC metro area. Since its inception, Courtney’s House and Tina have helped more than 650 survivors transition out of their trafficking situation. A former survivor herself, Tina is a high-profile national advocate raising awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. She has been featured on numerous national shows and publications, including the OWN Network’s Our America with Lisa Ling: 3AM Girls, the CNN Freedom Project, and in 2016 the Whitney Young Unsung Heroes award by the Urban Institute. In 2010, she became the first U.S. citizen to receive the Free the Slaves Freedom Awards-Frederick Douglas Award and in 2016 she was appointed by President Obama to the First White House Survivor Advisory Board. Tina has also for many years worked with the Vital Voices Global Freedom Exchange participants as a mentor, using her power to empower others by providing mentoring to women leaders who are on the forefront of global efforts to combat trafficking.
Tune into this podcast interview where Tina explains the realities of sex trafficking.
2019 Leadership Incubator Fellow Joan Erakit is the founder of RELATE, a unique media platform that gives power to the people by allowing them a space to share their personal narratives. Prior to starting her own company, Joan worked for Africa Center for Peace & Democracy at the Open Society Foundation, as a consultant for the United Nations Population Fund, and as a United Nations Correspondent for Inter Press Service. Splitting her time between the US and Italy, Joan also ran Open Borders, a three-part social innovation project focused on storytelling to promote inclusivity, integration, and education, and a creative agency called Little Bird Creatives. After receiving support and advice provided during the VV Leadership Incubator program, she relaunched RELATE and today is showcasing the importance of empowering others to tell their own stories.
Read Joan’s powerful writing in her piece on RELATE reflecting on the pain her home state of Minnesota felt in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
As the founder and Social Impact Strategist at K.Billy Push, a consulting company dedicated to creating and improving social impact initiatives, Leadership Incubator Fellow Kawanza Billy uses her power to empower others by fostering new processes, programs and systems that impact experience, sustainability and visibility. When Kawanza isn’t igniting the light in others, she is serving as Chapter Leader for the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and Civic Engagement Chair of the Greater Washington National Urban League-Thursday Network.
Learn more about Kawanza’s work as a social impact strategist.
Leadership Incubator Fellow Jazmine Davis is the founder of Jazmine Kionna, a luxury shoe brand centered around style, affordability and comfort. As her designer shoes collected dust, she graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and entered the world of research and development for a Fortune50 company. In New York, she learned the components of a high-heeled shoe, how critical the insole and last are to the comfort of high heels, and from there created five stylish pairs of shoes utilizing her love of color blocking, print clashing, and texture mixing! Jazmine Kionna, LLC is shaking up the industry by providing both comfortable and affordable heels that women can wear to work and for play — that’s power!
Watch this video where Jazmine offers more background on how her shoes and business are structured.
Leadership Incubator Fellow Charity Blanchett is the founder of The Dipping Spoon Foundation, a start-up non-profit organization whose mission is identifying and cultivating the next generation of Indigenous and Black Women-Identifying, Non-Binary, gender non-conforming, and femme culinary youth by providing and empowering aspiring chefs with a fully paid culinary scholarship, travel, housing, mental health services, paid externships and mentorship to attend the New Orleans Culinary and Hospitality Institute. Her organization is committed to sending aspiring chefs from Alaska, Hawaii and New Orleans to NOCHI, and pledges to foster diverse growth and learning opportunities.
Leadership Incubator Fellow Chavonne Hodges is an award-winning entrepreneur who founded GrillzandGranola — a socially impactful fitness company creating community-based experiences for underrepresented women of color. She started her inclusive wellness offerings with GrillzandGranola’s signature class, TrapAerobics — which they’ve now taught to more than 2,000 women — and is dedicated to making fitness and wellness more accessible.
Learn more about how Chavonne pivoted her business in the wake of COVID-19 and sign up to take a GrillzandGranola class yourself!
Jasmine L. Blanks Jones
Jasmine Blanks Jones is the founder of B4 Youth Theatre, which rallies behind its slogan — ‘Burning Barriers, Building Bridges’ — to teach students to embrace the arts as a tool for community empowerment, peace-building and problem solving that gives a voice to the marginalized and promotes positive change! Jasmine started B4 as a nonprofit that provides arts education programming for young people in Liberia, West Africa and cultural exchange programs in the United States using her power to empower young people to become educated citizens through the arts.
Read this article to find out more about Jasmine’s work with B4 Youth Theatre and its impact in Liberia.
Activist and HERlead Fellow Chelsea Miller is the co-founder of Freedom March NYC, which has become one of the largest youth-led civil rights organizations in New York, that mobilizes and focuses youth energy on non-violent, strategic activism. Chelsea has worked in the NYC Council, NYS Unified Court System, and the Obama White House focusing on urban economic opportunity and criminal justice reform. Her work has been recognized by elected officials and national organizations alike in the space of activism and social entrepreneurship as she continues to use her power fight for change.
These are just a few of the thousands of courageous, bold, visionary women leaders in the Vital Voices global network, which spans 182 countries and territories. To learn more about Vital Voices’ work investing in women leaders who are taking on the world’s toughest challenges, visit www.vitalvoices.org.