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Sharing Stories to Celebrate Young Women Empowering their Communities

StoryCorps and the White House Champions of Change program are working together to encourage young women who are empowering communities to share their stories.

As a professor who teaches leadership and negotiation, I know that innovation begins when young women, and young men, feel inspired to action. For example, that call may be sparked when a young woman notices an injustice, inequality or just plain inefficiency and mobilizes her peers, school, or organizations to inspire new solutions and fresh perspectives. Effective leaders know how to place a high value on the perspectives of others, to value diversity, to communicate tough truths, and often to make trade-offs, which may even disappoint people, at times.

Many young women, including those from underrepresented communities are very effective problem-solvers, especially in their families, but some hesitate to think of themselves as “leaders.” Some people continue to feel that a leader ought to look a certain way – for example to be tall, or to be male and so forth.

By shining a light on young women leading change in their communities, especially those from diverse backgrounds, we send a strong message to other young women that they can be leaders in their own way, in their own style, and in the context of their own values.

When girls, young women, and their mentors have a platform to share their stories of leadership, our collective understanding of leadership is enriched. Stories help us to recognize strengths and virtues. They also help people to become better observers and diagnosticians of leadership challenges. The very best leadership stories may be those that show how leaders may also need to honor vulnerabilities and uncertainties, within themselves and others, if they are to move past them to help communities solve the tough problems that really matter.

As we celebrate the leadership of young women, inviting authentic stories from young women, and those who support them, brings more voices into the conversation and brings more women to the leadership table.

This month, StoryCorps and the White House Champions of Change program are working together to encourage young women and their mentors to document and share their efforts to their stories, and ultimately bring visibility to this next generation of leadership talent.

StoryCorps has pulled together Animated Shorts and Audio selections from their archives to share the stories of creative leadership, outside the usual mold. Their stories are a reminder that we all have a story to tell.

  • Theresa Burroughs came of voting age during the Jim Crow era, but had to fight for the right to vote.
  • In 2010, Sergeant Marilyn Gonzalez received orders to deploy to Iraq, but her daughter, Specialist Jessica Pedraza did not. When Jessica found out that her mother was about to be deployed, she changed her job so she could deploy at the same time as her mom.
  •  Dawn Maestas runs a tattoo removal business in Albuquerque, NM. Women who have been tattooed with the names of abusive partners come to Dawn for help. Some of them were tattooed forcibly. Dawn removes those tattoos for free, because she has lived through domestic violence herself.

On Tuesday, September 15, the White House will host a Champions of Change event to honor young women empowering communities. At this live-streamed event, the Champions will engage in a dialogue and share their stories of everyday leadership in the service of improving the lives of others.

You can use the StoryCorps app to record your interview, then post it on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #ImagineHer

To record an interview using the StoryCorps app:

  1. Visit and download the free public beta mobile app from the iTunes store (Apple users) or Google Play store (Android users).
  2. Choose your interview partner.
  3. Use the question generator in the app to plan your interview. The generator contains questions on a variety of topics – including grandparents, family heritage, remembering a loved one, love and relationships. It also allows you to write your own questions.
  4. Record the interview using the app on your phone, which serves as a digital facilitator that will guide you through the process of preparation, recording, and archiving your conversation.
  5. Tag recordings with general keyword #ImagineHer
  6. Upload your recording to StoryCorps to be archived in the Library of Congress.
  7. Share your recording on Twitter and Facebook using the #ImagineHer hashtag.

For more information about recording your interview, visit the StoryCorps website.

Kimberlyn Leary is an Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls.