October 11, 2023
Washington D.C. – In acknowledgment of International Day of the Girl, First Lady Jill Biden honors 15 outstanding young women who have been at the forefront of positive change in their respective communities across the United States. These remarkable individuals were selected by the White House Gender Policy Council for their dedication to making a brighter future.
First Lady Jill Biden expressed her enthusiasm for celebrating these extraordinary “Girls Leading Change” at the White House. She emphasized that these young women are working to protect and preserve the environment and using their narratives to change minds and transform personal pain into purpose. They symbolize the potential of young people across the country, inspiring others with their innovation, strength, and hope.
In addition to the celebration, the Biden-Harris Administration has announced its commitment to investing in young people and expanding opportunities for women and girls, both domestically and internationally. Since taking office, the Administration has prioritized ensuring that women and girls have the resources and opportunities needed to guarantee their safety, education, health, and overall well-being.
2023 “Girls Leading Change” Honorees
Breanna & Brooke Bennett (Montgomery, Alabama)
Sixteen-year-old twin sisters Breanna and Brooke Bennett are determined to end period poverty and ensure that everyone has access to essential menstrual supplies. Their organization, “Women in Training,”, was created after the Bennett’s provided period supplies to girls in a public housing project in Montgomery, Alabama at the age of 12. Since then, they have distributed over 30,000 kits containing sanitary pads and toiletries. The sisters have also successfully advocated for the passage of HB 50, a state law in Alabama that allocates funds for school staff to provide sanitary pads to students in need.
Jazmin Cazares (Uvalde, Texas)
Jazmin Cazares, aged 18, has emerged as a leading activist for gun violence prevention, both at the state and national levels. Her activism started after her sister Jackie was tragically killed in a shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Throughout her senior year in high school, Jazmin traveled across the country, sharing her sister’s story. She has advocated for stricter background checks, and the implementation of risk protection laws, and called on lawmakers to take action to prevent future mass shootings. Jazmin plans to pursue a master’s degree in psychology while continuing to push her cause.
Mona Cho (Redondo Beach, California)
Fifteen-year-old Mona Cho is dedicated to combating online harassment and abuse, focusing on the harm it inflicts on young people, specifically young women. She serves on the Beach Cities Health District’s Youth Advisory Council and leads a team of five students in a campaign to raise awareness about online safety and mental health. Cho has also created a short film showcasing real-life stories about the consequences of damaged digital footprints. Through her involvement in the Plan USA Youth Leadership Academy, she leads the Digital Online Safety and Empowerment Initiative, promoting online safety and advocating for change using films.
Julia Garnett (Hendersonville, Tennessee)
Seventeen-year-old Julia Garnett is dedicated to fighting book bans and promoting educational freedom within public schools and county libraries. She successfully advocated for student representation on book review committees in her school district and provided testimony before Congress on book bans. Julia volunteers with Student Advocates for Speech, working with the National Coalition Against Censorship. As an advocate for multiple issues, she has organized events, led student walkouts, and served as the President of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. Julia is committed to ensuring that children and teens have access to diverse books, free from censorship.
Logan Hennes (New York, New York)
Sixteen-year-old Logan Hennes is dedicated to combating antisemitism across the United States. Through her involvement with the American Jewish Committee, she has played a leadership role in supporting students addressing antisemitism in their schools and communities. Logan has hosted speakers to raise awareness of rising antisemitism and has supported her peers in similar advocacy work on various issues. She aims to pursue a career in international relations and U.S. foreign policy.
Anja Herrman (River Forest, Illinois)
Seventeen-year-old Anja Herrman is a disability rights activist and advocate for equity and inclusion. She has been a member of the Personal Protective Equipment for People with Disabilities, helping secure PPE for people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anja serves as the youngest appointed member of the Village of River Forest’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Advisory Group. She has become a national leader through research, engaging speeches, and publications. Anja’s work includes advocating for school shooting plans that account for the safety of students with disabilities.
Leela Marie Hidier (Yarmouth, Maine)
Eighteen-year-old Leela Marie Hidier is a climate social justice advocate and published author. Her award-winning debut novel, “Changes in the Weather,” tells the story of four teenagers displaced by climate change in the U.S. Leela Marie has used her platform to perform live readings of her work at various venues, including climate conferences. She is currently working in the nonprofit sector in Maine before beginning college next year. Her goal is to become an educator and continue using art as a form of activism.
Elisa Martinez (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Seventeen-year-old Elisa Martinez is an organizer dedicated to civic engagement, particularly within the Latino community. She founded her school’s Latino Student Union and mobilizes students on issues like climate justice and gun violence prevention. Elisa also volunteers as a poll worker to assist Spanish-speaking voters and advocate for juveniles in the criminal justice system through the Trial by Peers program. Her experiences have driven her to consider becoming a public defender.
Gabriella Nakai (Phoenix, Arizona)
Seventeen-year-old Gabriella Nakai is a Navajo and Choctaw leader committed to furthering food security and sustainability, indigenous sovereignty, and youth advocacy. She has been recognized as a 2023 Champion for Change by the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute for her work in growing sustainable, heirloom Native produce and promoting seed saving. Gabriella also addresses youth homelessness and mental health in Phoenix through her involvement with Native American Connections. She aspires to continue serving her tribal community through nonprofit work.
Zahra Rahimi (Alexandria, Virginia)
Zahra Rahimi, a 17-year-old resident of Alexandria, Virginia, arrived in the U.S. from Afghanistan four years ago. She has been actively involved in supporting the resettlement of refugees in her local community, with a focus on providing English as a Second Language services in Alexandria schools. Zahra, as a student representative on the Alexandria City Board of Education, organized cultural events and staff training to ensure the schools were prepared to welcome new refugee families from Afghanistan. Collaborating with Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together, she established a unique literacy program to help middle and high school peers, primarily young women, who were reading below a second-grade level. In addition to her efforts in refugee resettlement, Zahra is a dedicated advocate for women’s rights, especially in conflict areas.
Gitanjali Rao (Highlands Ranch, Colorado)
Gitanjali Rao, also 17 years old, hailing from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is a freshman at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has made a name for herself as a scientist and inventor, receiving recognition such as an EPA Presidential Award and the title of America’s Top Young Scientist from Discovery Education/3M for her groundbreaking lead contamination detection tool. Gitanjali has authored the “Young Innovator’s Guide to STEM,” a book that outlines a five-step innovation process and is used as a STEM curriculum in select schools worldwide. Named Time Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year, Gitanjali is committed to both advancing her career in science and invention and expanding her STEM education initiative, which has already impacted over 80,000 elementary, middle, and high school students.
Avery Turner (Colorado Springs, Colorado)
Avery Turner, a 17-year-old high school senior from Colorado Springs, Colorado, considers herself a “seasoned mover” due to moving frequently on account of her father’s service in the Air Force. She is deeply committed to supporting military teens and currently serves as the Director of Programs at Bloom, an organization created by military teens to enhance their sense of belonging within the military community and amplify their voices. Additionally, Avery is a writer and a nationally ranked competitive springboard diver. She writes about her experiences navigating the ever-changing landscape of military teen life to foster connection and community.
Sandra Ukah (Lake Mary, Florida)
Sandra Ukah, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Florida, is devoted to civic education and community organizing. She co-founded and co-led Seminole High School’s Black Student Union, the first of its kind in Seminole County, and later played a crucial role in establishing BSU chapters in all the county’s high schools. Sandra served on her city’s Youth Council for two years, eventually becoming its president. During her tenure, she launched an initiative on civic education aimed at educating her community about the role of local government, organizing voter registration drives, and forging connections between government and the community. Sandra aspires to work in civil rights and constitutional law.
Rania Zuri (Morgantown, West Virginia)
Rania Zuri, 18 years old and a third-generation West Virginian, is the founder and CEO of The LiTEArary Society, a nonprofit organization with a mission to eliminate “book deserts” for disadvantaged preschool children. Rania founded this organization at the age of 13, and it has grown to donate books to over 28,000 preschool children in federal Head Start programs across all 50 states. The organization has received support and partnerships from companies like Pilot Pens, Hershey’s, Scholastic, and Starbucks. Rania is determined to continue this work, believing in the transformative power of reading in children’s lives.
The “Girls Leading Change” event was held at 3:00 PM ET today, October 11th, and the full event is accessible via livestream at wh.gov/live.