When I was fifteen, I saw an ad on Facebook for a Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. Finishing my freshman year, I was excited to learn about Girl Up. As I read more about it, I was ecstatic that a teenager like myself could actively participate in making a difference. Soon after, I convinced my father to take a road trip.
Days one and two were full of excitement. We attended so many different panels on the Sustainable Development Goals, women in business, confidence, and most importantly, leadership. Admittedly, the highlight from those first two days was watching First Lady Michelle Obama, the keynote speaker, present, as well as listening to young women from across the globe, who I was lucky enough to meet.
Four years ago, someone asked: How many of you want to run for office? Dozens of hands went up, but mine stayed down. Since then, my goals have changed.
Day three, however, was my favorite. It was Lobby Day, where all Leadership Summit attendees went to Capitol Hill to meet with their members of Congress and advocate for girls’ rights and education worldwide. It was something of a dream; I had never advocated for myself, let alone girls from all across the world whom I had never met.
I returned to Vernon Township High School in New Jersey determined and energized after the Summit. I started a club, not a Girl Up club as I had originally planned, but a Gay-Straight Alliance, which was a much-needed safe space for LGBTQ+ students and their allies. In the three years I was president, the club grew to have 30+ members. As I got older and bolder, I led student walkouts and live-streamed local board of education meetings. I organized and spoke at rallies. I served as Vice President of Sussex County’s National Organization for Women, and a local newspaper labelled me as a Teen to Watch. I became a force of nature. Four years ago, as I sat in a fancy hotel in our nation’s capital, one of the speakers asked a question. How many of you want to run for office? Dozens of hands went up, but mine stayed down. Since then, my goals have changed.
In my time as an activist these past four years, I have found that change starts at home. That is why, at nineteen years old, just out of high school I am running for Board of Education in my town. Besides, as the activists of Girl Up know so well, the youth are our future.
Zoe Heath is a 2018 Girl Up Leadership Summit attendee