Welcome Our 2021 Advisory Board!

May 19, 2021
This story took place in United States

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We are so excited to announce and introduce our 2021 Advisory Board!

We received over 500 applications from around the world – from every continent except for Antarctica – and selected a highly thoughtful collective of aspirational and engaged youth who are making meaningful impacts in their communities around the globe. For the next 12 months, this group of Advisors will play a pivotal role in the planning and execution of programs, campaigns, and projects core to the Foundation’s mission: (1) making kindness cool, (2) validating the emotions of young people everywhere, and (3) eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health. 

“Our Advisory Board members are an invaluable new addition to our Born This Way Foundation team,” said Cynthia Germanotta, President and Co-Founder of Born This Way Foundation. “Our work at Born This Way Foundation is done for and in partnership with young people, and it is our mission to put their perspectives, knowledge, and experiences at the center of our work. That is why we prioritized recruiting Advisory Board members from around the world to advise on our upcoming initiatives to ensure we’re responsive to the needs of youth everywhere. We’re honored to work with such hopeful, energetic, and accomplished young individuals and are inspired by their dedication to our goal of building a kinder and braver world.”

Advisory Board members will learn about and advise the Foundation on programming and help the organization prepare for its upcoming tenth anniversary; serve as ambassadors of our work in their communities; and share their stories of kindness, resilience, and community on Channel Kindness. Keep scrolling to learn more about, welcome, and celebrate our incoming 2021 Advisory Board members.

Alexander L.

Alexander L. (he/him/his) feels like somewhat of an average person, and he enjoys that. He loves writing, telling stories, and thinking creatively. He also likes to perform and have his efforts pay off into something he can be really proud of. His biggest aspirations include helping to bring other people happiness, finishing writing his book, and experiencing the world through traveling. 

Self-care Practices: Writing, journaling, baking, scheduling time for homework to finish it on time, enjoying music, talking to friends, and limiting social media.

Ayana J. 

Ayana J. (she/her/hers) is a high school senior from California and the proud granddaughter of Dominican immigrants, who hopes to someday address educational inequities in the United States and abroad. Led by her passion for mental health and wellness, this summer she will co-launch Girl Power workshops teaching young girls the importance of healthy coping strategies and developing a positive growth mindset. Ayana is a top student, the student government Activities Commissioner, varsity lacrosse player, and published photographer. Through her photography, Ayana, who is Afro-Latina, explores dimensions of identity and race. Her values of kindness, community, and giving back guide and inspire her to grow as a leader, amplify her voice, and add value by valuing the humanity in others. 

Go-to Affirmation: “What I believe, I will achieve.”

Cherrial O.

Cherrial O. (she/her/hers) is a two-time suicide attempt survivor and incoming college freshman. She currently interns for the Inspiring Children Foundation, which she accredits to helping save her life as a teenager struggling with severe depression, anxiety, anger, and suicidal thoughts through tools such as mindfulness and meditation. Now, Cherrial has found a deep love for her life and is extremely passionate about sharing it with others.

Anchors: Opening up to community and loved ones, journaling, and meditation. 

Colyn A. 

Colyn A. (he/him/his) currently resides in Nevada as a student majoring in Political Science and Secondary Education. In high school, he served as a Nevada Youth Legislator where he found his passion for advocating for mental wellness. Colyn hopes to create a better world where all young people feel loved, heard, and respected for their diversity. He wants each young person to know they have a purpose on this earth.

Self-care Practices: Hiking, running, playing music, and traveling. 

Danielle B. 

Danielle B. (she/her/hers) is an Indigenous (Ojibwe) and Queer diversity champion, robotics inventor, and advocate for underserved youth who has been educating children since she was ten. She creates innovative and accessible learning solutions utilizing robots that she invents and donates to youth to reduce the barrier to entry to valuable technical skills. Founding The STEAM Connection, her educational nonprofit, has helped her reach hundreds of thousands of youth around the world. From mentoring 35 youth robotics teams, to fighting through sexism as a woman in engineering, to working as a diversity champion and speaker, she is a tenacious advocate for the child that she once was. She is one of PEOPLE’s Girls Changing the World, is a L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, and was recently honored in Women of Worth, an NBC Special. She was just featured as the cover story for Winds of Change by the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, her favorite charity. 

Go-to Affirmation: Niminwendam omaa ayaayan. It means, “I am happy you are here” in Ojibwemowin.

Defi “Salsa” U.

Defi “Salsa” U. (she/her/hers) is an engineering student living in Indonesia, where she was born and raised. Her passion for literature inspired her to write a winning essay celebrating Indonesia’s Independence Day. Salsa does a lot of creative writing in her spare time, mostly, fiction. Working as part of a team has always been her passion, and as such, Salsa has served in her student council for two periods back-to-back. As a natural-born leader, Salsa is always excited to motivate others to grow and care for their wellbeing. 

Biggest Inspiration: “My dad who taught me to be a strong, independent woman and helped me know my worth. Also, he is the one who taught me about the concept, ‘sharing is caring.’”

Irlanda G. 

Irlanda G. (she/her/hers) is the proud daughter of Mexican immigrant parents, the youngest sister to three siblings, and an aunt to 3 nieces and a nephew. She is also a dog mom to 3 loving dogs, Miley, Chapito, and Rico. Currently, Irlanda forms part of the County of San Diego’s COVID-19 response in varying capacities. She has been a contact tracer and soon will be supporting vaccine sites. Bringing holistic healing into her community is one of her goals.

Go-to Affirmation: My best is defined by the pattern, not the day. 

Isabella H.

Isabella H. (she/her/hers) launched a national poetry competition at the age of 14 on why Black Lives Matter. Isabella’s “I Matter” project is a published compilation of top poems and art, sponsored by Gucci. Isabella is an honor roll student who holds a leadership role in her school’s Diversity Club and is a member of her school’s track team, Model UN team, and the Humanitarian Club. She also is a Youth Founder of the National Youth Foundation. Isabella has been featured as part of Nickelodeon’s Kid of the Year program, as well as in Forbes Magazine and Medium.com.

Anchors: Loved ones, pets, new books, and new music. 

James F. 

James F. (he/him/his) is a Research Assistant and Community Advocate living in Australia. James’ research interests include developing a greater understanding of the needs and experiences of gender, sexual, and romantic minorities and using this to inform the design of targeted mental health treatments. In July, James will be starting a PhD investigating the peer-design of a web-based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Program for LGBTQI+ young people. James also co-founded the Australian community project ‘Queerious Minds’, which aims to inform and inspire people all around the world with LGBTQI+ person’s stories and wisdom.

Self-care Practices: Gratitude + informal meditation and spending quality time with loved ones. 

Joanna H.

Joanna H. (she/her/hers) is currently a master’s student studying physiology with aspirations to become an MD/MPH. She received her undergraduate degree in Government with a concentration in Inequality Studies and Health Policy and Analysis. Joanna has committed much of her life to mental health, from receiving her Girl Scout Gold Award for mental health awareness projects to revamping and revitalizing the mental health space at her university. She continues to focus on mental health advocacy while she pursues medicine and has also dedicated herself to a variety of volunteer projects. Originally from sunny Los Angeles, she now resides in Washington, D.C. continuing to fight the good fight.

Biggest Inspiration: “One of my best friends (and my current roommate) inspires me every day. He is consistently committed to learning how to support others, whether through his career or in his free time, and has also recently inspired me to start to listen to my own body and appreciate my body for what it has done and continues to do for me.”

Joe H. 

Joe H. (he/him/his) is a writer and presenter living in the UK. In addition to studying creative writing at university, he has also hosted his own radio show and continues to create multimedia content. After receiving the Essex Newspaper’s Award for Communications for his editorial work, Joe has been emboldened to use his platform and love of storytelling to share the truths that unite us as humans, in order to build a braver world.

Anchors: Listening to music while walking the dog every day. 

Keely C. 

Keely C. (she/her/hers) is an Entrepreneur and Disability Activist dedicated to making social, systematic, and economic change. Keely founded her first company at a young age during her time in hospital which developed into C Talent. C Talent represents d/Deaf and Disabled artists and athletes globally with the goal of normalizing people with disabilities being experts in subjects beyond disability. C Talent also provides disability inclusion consulting for Fortune 500 companies. Keely recently founded Zetta Studios which is set to be a fully accessible film studio. Keely appeared on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Entertainment list 2021 as an honoree, is an Aerie Change-Maker, and sits on the d/Deaf & Disabled committee at Equity UK.

Go-to Affirmation: I am enough. 

Khawla A.

Khawla A. (she/her/hers) is a junior public health researcher from Lebanon, focusing on mental health, migrant wellbeing, community health, and health promotion. She studied Public Health and Psychology in college, where she wove community engagement into her academic journey. In 2018, she served as the youth representative to the UN of the International Association of Applied Psychology, advocating for mental health and wellbeing on the international agenda. 

Self-care Practices: Going for walks, watching birds, drinking tea, yoga, and picking up litter to care for the community and environment. 

Laurens-Jan B.

Laurens-Jan B. (he/him/his) is studying hospitality management and through this program, has found and nurtured his inner passion to create a kinder and braver world starting within his own community.

Biggest Inspiration: “My grandmother, mainly because she does not shy away from issues surrounding mental health. Whenever she senses even the slightest big of negative emotions, she will address it immediately. … She inspires me [to understand] how vital it is that someone who struggles with their mental health is being heard and supported.”

Mackenzie M.

Mackenzie M. (she/her/hers) runs the social media for Hope Means Nevada, a statewide community-driven initiative to eliminate teen suicide in Nevada by reaching and teaching teens and caring adults the critical practices of mental wellness. Mackenzie is a member of The Las Vegas Raiders Family Association, and has joined the 2021 Jameson Fellowship cohort. 

Go-to Affirmation: Feel it to heal it. 

Matthew W.

Matthew W. (they/them/theirs) is a community advocate who strives for equity and justice in their community. After joining API Legal Outreach’s Youth Advisory Council, they have been able to advocate for preventative measures to end teen dating violence at local organizations and colleges. They have also organized several art events and talent shows, which aim to give youth activists a platform to advocate for justice through artivism. Their hobbies include writing poetry, taking afternoon naps, and watching television shows. 

Mauricio C.

Mauricio C. (he/him/his) is from Uruguay and is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in law. He believes providing skills to a community is the way to build a kinder and braver world. Mauricio is passionate about learning new things in all areas of knowledge.

Self-care Practices: Recognizing stressors as a way to cope with anxiety and taking time to learn new things, read, and write. 

Maxwell S. 

Maxwell S. (he/him/his) is honored to have received Born This Way Foundation’s Channel Kindness Award in 2017. He serves as Co-Founder of Catching Joy, Inc., a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and acts of kindness beginning with kids, teens, and families. His short film, “The Impact of Giving Back” won Honorable Mention in the 2015 White House Student Film Festival. Maxwell delivered a TEDxTalk: “Youth’s Power and Passion Can Change the World.” 

Go-to Affirmation: I give my best, and that’s enough.

Olu O.

Olu O. (she/her/hers) is a full-time student majoring in politics, economics, + law and minoring in African American studies. She is the co-founder of Black Girls Advocate and is heavily involved on her campus. Olu enjoys writing poetry, public speaking, and advocacy. She hopes to serve as someone who is passionate and in the habit of making good trouble in the name of peace.

Roman S.

Roman S. (he/him/his) was born and raised in Germany, He is of Afghan descent and is a student of Political Science and Economics. Next to his studies, Roman is deeply passionate about children’s rights as a volunteer for the United Nations Children’s Fund and Major Group for Children and Youth and also serves as an elected student representative on campus. He hopes to make the world a kinder, braver place and eliminate stigma surrounding mental health – step-by-step – by helping young people build a better tomorrow.

Anchors: Random acts of kindness in the form of thank you’s from strangers and loved ones. 

Saloni K.

Saloni K. (she/her/hers) is a digital strategist and policy professional. After graduating with a B.A. in International Relations and Business, Saloni worked on congressional campaigns and as a creator on the Biden Coalition TikTok team. She’s now a policy associate. Saloni is a changemaker, dedicated to raising social, cultural, political awareness, and works on Brown Gal Glow, a project made to challenge stereotypes and empower women of color.

Self-care Practices: Movement and physical activity including dancing, cycling, and running. 

Samuel L.

Samuel L. (he/him/his) is a high school junior from Michigan. He is motivated to learn more about the field of medicine and science, and interested in advocating for equality for all and building senses of empowerment and bravery in the next generation. Samuel is passionate about learning about new cultures from across every continent and perspectives from people with different backgrounds. 

Biggest Inspiration: “My father is brave. Before I was born, he decided to move to America with his daughter (my sister) and his wife from South Korea to pursue a job here in Michigan . . . His story inspires me every single day to accept who I am as a Korean-American and preserve through the hurdles it presents me.”

Sarah G.

Sarah G. (she/her/hers) is a 16-year-old climate activist and founder of Climate NOW. Climate NOW is an international youth-led organization focused on educating and empowering young people to take climate action. Climate NOW was founded in 2019, and has since worked with over 10,000 youth and presented to over 70 K-12 schools from around the world. Outside of Climate NOW, Sarah volunteers as the Chair of her town’s Climate Action Committee and works to draw attention to the parallels between mental health and advocacy work. Learn more about Climate NOW at www.climatenow.solutions.

Go-to Affirmation: Your voice is powerful. So go use it. 

Skya F.

Skya F. (she/they) is a graduating high school student who is passionate about working with students with disabilities and the arts programs. Skya identifies as a proud Black lesbian woman and loves being a part of and supporting the LGBTQIA+ community. Skya also has been actively protesting against social and racial injustice due to George Floyd’s murder which happened just a few miles from her home. Next fall, Skya will attend college where she plans to major in either Psychology or Special Education. Skya loves volleyball and has been playing most of her life. In her free time, Skya loves spending time with her best fur-friend Davis, an 8-year old Golden Retriever. They bring each other joy every day! Skya also enjoys art, thrifting, reading, and spending time with her family. She is especially close to her big sister Keagan who has cerebral palsy. Keagan is her rock, inspiration, and hero!

Self-care Practices: Being outside and enjoying nature, creating art, and visiting museums. 

Sophie S.

Sophie S. (she/her/hers) is an 18-year-old first-generation Jewish-Latina American who is passionate about advocacy, social justice, and creative writing. When not attending high school or doing homework, she spends her time working with various organizations, writing poetry, and volunteering with undocumented, unaccompanied Latinx children immigrants.

Go-to Affirmation: Even broken glass reflects light. 

Spencer H.

Spencer H. (he/him/his) was born with a rare genetic disorder called TAR syndrome, meaning that he was born with very short arms and has been a double amputee since age 6, and has also been recently diagnosed with autism. Despite his physical circumstances, that hasn’t stopped him from actively participating in the work of inclusion, as well as being a spokesperson for Inclusion Matters, an organization focused on including children of all abilities in play. 

Go-to Affirmation: Including everyone is good for everyone. Being kind to everyone changes everyone. And it only takes one to bring together everyone.

Stellan K.

Stellan K. (zey/zem/zir) is an incredible Black trans teen from Memphis, TN. Ze loves reading plays, poetry, and science articles in zir spare time. Stellan also writes zir own poetry and prose, so keep zir on your radar and you might just find your new favorite author!

Anchor: “My anchor is a hug from my little sister. I know I can count on her love to feel whole again.”

Toluwalashe S.

Toluwalashe S. (he/him/his) has worked over 5 years with local communities and international organizations on projects around mental healthcare delivery, healthcare access, and capacity building. In recognition of his work in the development space, Soyemi has recently been awarded as a Recipient of the The Diana Award; the most prestigious accolade a young person can receive which is in memory of Princess Diana of Wales; UK. Currently undergoing his medical training in Nigeria, Soyemi is interested in research around mental health care services and delivery in local communities.

Self-care Practices: Spending time with loved ones and spending quality alone time.

Varshini B.

Varshini B. (she/her/hers) graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and at university, worked as a researcher, Social Justice Scholar, and writing consultant. Growing up in six different countries, Varshini has always been curious about the human experience and the cultural forces that shape it. Varshini’s anthropological training and passion for storytelling inform her current role as a design thinking associate, where she applies a human-centered approach to solve complex business challenges. Varshini is driven by a deep commitment to building a multivocal, decolonial future through networks of care.

Go-to affirmation: I am worthy. I am enough. I am capable of doing hard things.

Pledge to Take Action