Ithaca; New York — Helping women and youth across every horizon rise above. That simple sentence would become more than a set of words or a catchy tagline and become the mission of my nonprofit organization at 16 years old. If anyone had told me as a child that I’d be starting up an organization and growing alongside it throughout my teenage years, I would struggle to believe it.
Yet, in between my playful childhood years spent with dolls and my increasingly aware teenage self was a global pandemic and national movements fighting for Black lives and women’s rights. It was nearly impossible to not see the devastation, confusion, and fear all around. With everything dragging people, especially kids, down-- I wanted to create an organization that could help at least a few people rise up.
Thanks to a bible verse, my adoration for Maya Angelou’s poetry, and my obsession with the word “initiative” - Her Rising Initiative was born in the autumn months of 2021. Just starting off my junior year of high school, I had to figure out how all of my plans for Her Rising would be funded.
Being a safe space for many friends and family members to vent encouraged me to make my own journal that loved ones could use. I designed it the exact same way I had designed my own diaries in the past. Space to journal about one’s day, space to color, space to write out the neverending list of tasks for the day, space to jot down goals, and for the times you don’t know what to say or do-- space to read over quotes and little lessons.
Calling it Compass: Her Steps in the Right Direction, I published two editions with the help of 7th Seal Advantage Editing and Publishing just in time for November. All the proceeds from the journals went straight to Her Rising Initiative and that’s when we took off. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from easy. There were book launches where I could count the number of attendees on one hand and fundraisers where I didn’t quite hit the goal. But I kept going, relying on the words of my mom and my own faith to push me when I felt stuck.
Fortunately, the more I took a step out, the more paths I crossed and soon enough I had been connected to a local organization that assisted community organizers and volunteers earn funding towards their projects.Through them, I learned about the power of grants and by the end of the year, Her Rising no longer relied on my books alone but on the shoulders of community building grants. With these, I was able to finally do what I loved most: bringing people together. Through Girls Who Lead, we brought around 200 middle school girls from across the state together to eat, dance, and most importantly learn how they could bring their dreams into reality. Inviting female leaders across a variety of industries like law, music, theater, engineering, medicine, and more to lead workshops with young girls who aspire to go into that field. In addition to the career work, I make sure that conversations about confidence and self-worth are also just as equally emphasized throughout the conference.
Girls Who Lead has become more than an event or something on the news, it’s given me another reason to wake up and pour into Her Rising. Since launching the event in 2022, we’ve had girls from the event go on to start their own organization, business, or programming in their hometowns. Seeing that has been magical, invigorating, and humbling all at the same time. It’s also inspired me to do more. When I was a senior in high school, I saw the magnitude a single scholarship could have.
So we fundraised and created the Rising Scholarship Fund. When I noticed division or recurring questions arising, I found joy in curating panel discussions and fundraising dinners that brought women from various backgrounds and ethnicities together to commune, reflect, and envision. With every project, attendee, and milestone-- I have learned so much about myself, my voice, and the extent to which both of those can have on the world. My nonprofit has given me a sense of agency, a myriad of lessons, lifelong mentors, and a way to navigate the world.
Every idea seems too far from reach until you take the first step. If you’re reading this and feel even a tiny bit of interest, take this as a sign to get started! It doesn’t even need to be a formal nonprofit organization. What the world needs desperately right now are people willing to push
out as much good energy as possible, and the beautiful thing is that it can take form in so many different ways.
Cherie Animashaun is an author and activist from the Chicagoland area. She is a freshman at Cornell University studying Public Policy. You can follow her on Instagram @ her.risingg
Edited by NaTyshca Pickett