BY Simone Marean and Takai Tyler
We know from our Ready to Lead report that Black and Latinx girls are the most likely to self-identify as leaders, practice leadership skills, and aspire to leadership compared to girls of other races. Our research also found that racial and gender bias specifically from teachers hinders the leadership of Black and Latinx girls, while mentors — mothers specifically — are key sources of support for their leadership aspirations.
Today, in honor of Black History and Black Futures Month, we are so delighted to share an interview with one of our Black leaders, 17-year-old Soumaou, about her perspectives on leadership. Soumaou is a member of our Girl Advisory Board and participates in Power Lab at one of The Young Women’s Leadership Schools (TYWLS) we partner with in New York.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH GIRLS LEADERSHIP LIKE?
In the Girls Leadership Club at my school, we talk about all kinds of social issues every Friday. Sometimes I am surprised to find out about things that other people are insecure about; it has been a really good way to get to know and understand other people. I also connect with girls through the Girl Advisory Board every Wednesday, and we cover a lot of topics there. And just recently, it was really cool to be a part of the Girls Leadership event with the WNBA.
The environment at Girls Leadership is safe and respectful — no one judges you. Another word to describe it is “unique” because even though we are all girls, everyone is different.
WHO TAUGHT YOU TO BE A LEADER?
I would have to say Michelle Obama, because she was the first Black First Lady. And she still inspires me because she takes initiative to be a leader outside of the White House.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE LEADERSHIP MOMENTS, OR A MOMENT WHEN YOU FELT MOST POWERFUL?
I’m in another program called Riley’s Way. I was responsible for leading a meeting with another girl, and we talked about how poetry is important and how people can take interest in poetry. Other people wrote poetry and shared, and I also wrote and shared poetry. It was my first time doing something like that and it was very powerful.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO WITH YOUR LEADERSHIP?
I want to be an orthodontist with my own practice, and I want to help low-income communities who may struggle to pay for services. I also know that if I run my own practice, part of my job is to use my leadership skills to make sure people get the treatment they deserve.
WHAT DO YOU NEED MOST FROM ADULTS IN YOUR LIFE?
I feel like support is the biggest thing. Even if you feel like a strong person and a leader, you need support. I am so grateful for the support I have from the Girl Advisory Board staff — Hénia, Kendra, and Catherine.
IN YOUR OPINION WHAT IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP?
Communication and problem solving are so important. You need to communicate well with people around you in order to lead successfully. And as a leader, not everything runs smoothly. There will be bumps in the road, and you need a plan and the ability to solve problems.
WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO YOUNGER GIRLS?
I would say, be true to yourself. Don’t be someone who other people want you to be — be who you want to be. A lot of people tell me to be a lawyer, doctor, or even an WNBA player just because I am tall. Those are not the things I want to do! My thinking is, if you don’t want me to be who I want to be, maybe you shouldn’t be in my professional life.
DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR GIRLS OF COLOR STRUGGLING WITH GENDER AND RACIAL BIAS?
It’s okay to not be okay. If you know you are feeling insecure about your skin color or skin tone or race, this is normal. Take the time to address your feelings and figure it out with support.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SHARE?
I think it is okay to cut back on friends, and it’s really important to do that with toxic people. If you are hanging around people who don’t treat others well, it might change how you act. If that is not who you want to be and how you want to act, you have the power to make a change.