Teen-Led ‘Homegirl Project’ Ushers Young Women of Color into Politics

The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.

When Vice President Kamala Harris was young, she said her mother would tell her, “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you are not the last.”

The teen-led Homegirl Project is working to usher young women of color into the political arena. Harris’s historic election “is a sign that the people are hungry for our voices,” says Malavika Kannan, the 19-year- old Stanford University student who founded the Homegirl Project in 2018 as a high schooler in Florida.

Kannan recognized that while girls of color are disproportionately impacted by many political issues, including gun violence, educational inequities and reproductive injustice, there are limited opportunities for them to be heard in the political arena.

“I wanted to create a space where girls of color specifically could build those skills, could be centered, could get trained in political action and find that activist community,” Kannan said.

The Homegirl Project does not limit itself to electoral politics. “When you are a woman of color, a lot of your life and your experience is politicized. But we are really isolated when it comes to politics,” said Ava Marshall, Homegirl’s programs director. A 19-year-old New York University student, Marshall is studying the Black woman’s experience in film, TV and literature at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

“Learning from, working with, building with [each other], that is what really brings change,” she said.

To meet this goal, Kannan developed a fellowship program that pairs 10 high school girls with youth mentors who have political organizing experience. Anoushka Chander, 17, Homegirl’s fellowship director, calls the initiative “an incubator for political advocacy.”

In the past two years, 19 fellows launched projects throughout the country to get marginalized voices heard. With Homegirl’s support, Geetika Mahajan created a podcast in Fremont, Calif., to raise awareness about racial disparities in poverty; Lizbeth Zambrano tackled the achievement gap through a mentorship program in East Los Angeles; Laila Brown addressed misogynoir (the intersection of sexism and racism Black women face) through education campaigns in Vicksburg, Miss.; and Aanika Eragam successfully lobbied her county school board in Georgia to introduce a resolution for providing free menstrual products for her school.

Representation and community building are critical to Homegirl’s vision. “I grew up surrounded by mainly white people until high school,” says Lu Lu, executive director of the organization and an NYU student. “I think having [women of color] around you showing support and solidarity will encourage a lot of young kids to grow up wanting to be that leader, because when I was growing up, I never saw myself as a leader in my community.”

The group’s own leadership thrives from the potential of those they serve. “I am excited to see the new ideas that young women of color are going to bring to governing bodies, disrupting American history of white men making decisions about everybody,” Chander says.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 print issue of Ms. Become a member today to read the entire issue—through our app and in print.

The Future is Ms. is committed to amplifying the voices of young women everywhere. Share one of your own stories about your path to empowerment at SayItForward.org.

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Sunaya DasGupta Mueller is an 11th grader from New York and a former member of the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps. This story was made possible by a grant from Say It Forward in support of our teen journalism project, The Future Is Ms.