On Wednesday, March 10th, girls, funders, parents, activists, and leaders all over the country gathered for Girls Leadership’s 12th anniversary celebration. The “Power of Voice” Benefit featured honorees and speakers Billie Jean King, Marley Dias, Meena Harris, Samhita Mukhopadhyay, and Suni Harford.
The all-ages event opened with Alicia Menendez, television host and past intern with Girls Leadership, offering thanks and celebration to the event’s sponsors. Menendez also introduced the theme of the evening, “power of voice,” which honors women’s suffrage and collaborative efforts for social and gender justice.
Following an introductory video from the Co-CEOs, Takai Taylor and Simone Marean, J-Rey Soul (who you might know from the Black Eyed Peas and The Voice: Philippines) performed an original song in honor of Girls Leadership.
“Anything is possible if you put your mind, your heart, and your soul into it,” said Soul. “Who would have thought that a girl from the Philippines would be performing with the Black Eyed Peas?”
Next, Devon Rothwell, Chair of the Benefit Committee, spoke to her daughter’s experiences in Girls Leadership, which were so wonderful and impactful that Rothwell “jumped at the chance” to get involved with Girls Leadership by leading the Benefit Committee.
“If you’re able to give tonight, thank you,” she said. “I’m inspired by the women we’re honoring tonight, the Girls Leadership team, and the next generation of female leaders.”
Meena Harris on Intergenerational, Intersectional Work — And Gratitude
Founder of the Phenomenal brand, children’s book writer, attorney, and entrepreneur Meena Harris was the night’s first honoree. She thanked the Girls Leadership team and the “strong, ambitious women,” “hardworking single mom,” and other strong female family members for making her into the person she is today.
“At Girls Leadership, you know as well as anyone how much friends and community can be just as important and impactful when it comes to helping young women find their voice,” said Harris. She also offered thanks to her best friend and law school classmate, Josie Rice, who Harris considers one of her strongest and most impactful supporters.
Calling Rice a “champion for social reform who is literally changing the conversation,” Harris spoke to the inspiration she feels “sitting on the sidelines and watching this extraordinary path of yours.”
Marley Dias and #1000BlackGirlBooks
The next honoree was Marley Dias, a 16-year-old activist and campaign founder known for the online book drive #1000BlackGirlBooks, a campaign to put more books featuring Black female main characters in the hands of kids around the country. Founded in 2015, the campaign has since generated more than 13,000 books.
In addition to her mother, Dias honored Mattie Kahn, editor of Dias’s online articles at Glamour magazine, as her inspiration. She thanked Kahn for the impact she had on Dias’s campaign, helping Dias get out of the “adult talks, kid nods” cycle of young activism.
“You’re extremely impactful in my life,” Dias told Kahn. “And when I think of voice and creativity, I always think of you.”
Suni Harford on Leveraging Women’s Global Asset Management
Next, Suni Harford took the virtual stage to honor one of her greatest inspirations in life. Dedicated to increasing the number of women in business, Harford is a finance leader and President of Asset Management at UBS, where she also serves on the UBS Group Executive Board.
“I’m a huge mentor in having a mentor and being a mentor,” said Harford, joking about the difficulty of naming “just one” person who has inspired her along her professional journey. “35 years into my career, I’ve shifted from looking backward and into looking forward.”
Harford revealed a 16-person Zoom call, showing the young women she names as the “next generation of leaders” and “future” of her company and industry, who were all smiles as Harford offered her thanks.
Youth Leader Naysa Harraway on the Power of Voice
Introduced as a poet, aspiring criminal defense attorney, and debate champion, Naysa Harraway told her own story of finding her voice at Girls Leadership through poetry and storytelling.
“It’s important as a Black girl in our society that I respect, listen, and know the value of what I have to say,” said Harraway. “I use the power of my voice to inspire — because that’s just what I do.”
Cindy Solomon, Auctioneer and Designer of Courageous Leadership
In the evening’s next fundraising push, speaker and author Cindy Solomon spoke to the common words she heard from the previous speakers: “Ambition, confidence, action, courage, bravery, power, impact, activism, fighter, champion, and leader. Every one of us has an opportunity to be a leader,” said Solomon, encouraging participants to make donations and help Girls Leadership reach their $125,000 fundraising goal.
In a short segment, the fundraising jumped from $25,000 to over $60,000 as a shocked Solomon laughed and thanked the contributors. “Imagine how different the world might look if we’re able to help [girls around the world] through our programs at Girls Leadership.”
“That donation was from my 8 year old daughter Elizabeth,” wrote one participant who donated $2,500, as thanks and encouragement poured in through the chat box. The ticker tape climbed to $82,000 as the entire Girls Leadership team offered their thanks.
“Hit that Pledge button if you wish you could have taught your younger self it’s about progress, not perfection,” said Solomon.
A $10,000 donation match moved the fundraising tracker across the $100,000 line as the event moved on to its final two honorees.
Samhita Mukhopadhyay on Motherhood and Leadership
Mukhopadhyay joined the conversation with her mother at her side, who has been quarantining with her and her family.
“She always told me to believe in myself and never be afraid of anything,” said Mukhopadhyay. “That was very important in my growing up as a feminist. Having my mother in my corner gave me the support I needed to pursue my dreams.”
Mukhopadhyay offered her thanks to her mother, emphasizing that her mother’s support helped her in her path to leading Teen Vogue, where she hopes to stand as an example for the next generation of writers, activists, and leaders.
Billie Jean King on Women in Sports
The final honoree of the night, Billie Jean King, took the virtual stage to offer her own thanks to her seventh grade teacher for championing her path as a female pioneer in sports.
“Everyone’s voices can be amplified because of this,” said King, the founder of the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative. “I love that you name the award, ‘The Power of Voice.’ Over the years, there have been several people who have helped me find my voice.”
King honored all teachers who help their students find the power of their own voices. She also described wondering, “Where is everybody else?” while playing in an “all white” tennis world where everyone “wore white and played with white tennis balls.”
King also honored Batouly Camara, the founder of WAKE, a nonprofit organization aimed at empowering young women and girls through basketball clinics and workshops around the world. “I’m so inspired by her, challenged by her, and thrilled she is a representative of the younger generation who are gladly accepting the baton of equality and leadership,” said King.
The event closed with thanks from host Alicia Menendez and a Zoom after party to celebrate the organization’s progress. By the close of the official proceedings, the evening had raised a total of $115,353 for the organization — in just under an hour! An impressive evening indeed!
To learn more about Girls Leadership and their upcoming programs, visit their website here.
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