This six-month leadership development program is designed to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders nationwide. The inaugural cohort is made up of people from every corner of the country who are impacting change across borders, sectors, and societal issues. These selected leaders represent 37 states, Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Guam, and five tribal nations.
According to the Obama Foundation, the elected leaders are “united by their passion for building a stronger, more sustainable, and more inclusive world.”
“I’m inspired by this talented group of young leaders from across the United States who are working on the most pressing issues facing our world,” said President Obama in a statement shared with ESSENCE. “From an oncology resident championing health equity for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders to passionate union organizers advocating for the labor rights of educators and first responders nationwide, to the first Black woman executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama—their ideas and leadership will help strengthen democracy now and in the future. These leaders give me hope, and they deserve our support,” Obama added.
The Obama Foundation Leaders program was launched in 2018 and aims to empower emerging leaders to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities, regions, and across the globe. Among the 100 emerging changemakers, 20 Black women were selected to participate in the program.
ESSENCE had the opportunity to sit down with some of these change makers to learn more about their work.
Jurema Gorham, Founder and Executive Director, Burst Into Books
Gorham’s Chicago-based nonprofit Burst Into Books seeks to rebuild the community through the arts, advocacy, and family and educational programs. She leads the organization’s programs and initiatives that improve literacy skills and works to cultivate spaces for Black and brown children to access resources that will improve their lives.
She shared what it means to be selected, not only for her work and its impact but also as a Black woman. “To be selected to be a part of this program…it very much so is confirming to me that Black women are really making an impact around the world and not just in my sector, in my city, and in the work that I’m doing, but that it’s definitely a movement happening,” says Gorham.
“Our stories matter, and so that’s what I’m most excited about in this cohort is really learning everybody’s story… I’ll be able to meet other amazing, dynamic women, and their stories are going to change me, and I hope my story can change them and then in turn, I’ll be able to bring those stories back to the families and the children that I serve. They’ll just feel the reason why books matter, why community matters, Gorham tells ESSENCE.
Jessica Dandridge, Executive Director, The Water Collaborative of Greater New Orleans
Jessica Dandridge works on all aspects of water justice issues, such as affordability, water quality, and water access through The Water Collaborative (TWC). The community-based organization aims to build a diverse network for all people impacted by flood risk by focusing on equitable practices to sustainably live and thrive with water.
“I’m really excited about this work for a myriad of reasons… I think the first is that we’re still here; I think a lot of people forgot about Hurricane Katrina and all of the other hurricanes that have hit the Gulf South,” Dandridge shares. “A lot of times the people that have been impacted are forgotten, and so for me being a Black woman, a woman of color in the space to lead with the perspective of someone who’s been on the other side is crucial to the future of this country. And to that end, the second thing I’m excited about is highlighting the concerns about climate, the climate emergency with people from across the country.”
Dominicca Troi Washington, Founder and Executive Director, The SHE Society Incorporated: SHE Chicago
Dominicca Troi Washington founded The SHE Society Incorporated: SHE Chicago five years ago to empower inner-city teen girls. The organization does this through social and emotional learning, community service, and support with college career planning. Washington says the organization aims to show young women that they can change the course of their life and see themselves as assets to the world community if they get help discovering their purpose and being exposed to resources outside of their communities.
“I’m coming into this space with a learner’s lens; I’m looking for community, I’m looking for education, but most importantly, thought partnership. This is a phenomenal group of leaders that we’re going to be working with, and I would like to learn more about how to scale this business to better support our girls,” Washington shares with ESSENCE.
“We all come from such diverse backgrounds, it really just kind of gives me fuel, and it also gives me a story, it gives me examples and representation that I share with the girls in my program and to help them to see themselves as a part of the bigger picture and as assets to the global community,” she added.