If only we could bottle Zaniya Lewis’s passion and courage.
The George Washington University student hasn’t just overcome the adversity in her own life. She has leveraged her success and the contacts she has made to light the way for other young women striving to realize their full potential.
Lewis’s story starts, in part, on a basketball court in South New Jersey. Though many of her high school teammates were new to the sport, Lewis, who had played the game for years, inspired and led the team to its first tournament championship. She wrote about her experience for a competition co-sponsored by the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), winning her one of three coveted spots in a “Basketball Without Borders” community service trip to South Africa.
With her eyes further opened both to life’s challenges and possibilities, Lewis next entered an essay contest for Seventeen magazine—and landed on the cover with the other winner and Michelle Obama.
Lewis then went off to college, where she could have focused on herself very easily and understandably. Instead, she started YesSheCanCampaign. “We’re a group committed to helping young women tell their stories, develop their writing skills and tap scholarship and internship opportunities,” she says.
Along with selling t-shirts and crowdfunding, Lewis has turned to the organizations that have given her awards and scholarships, including the NBPA and Taco Bell Foundation. “We just got our 501(c)(3) status, so I’ll be spending most of the summer writing grant applications,” she adds.
Earlier this month, her group hosted its second conference, called “The Sparkle Summit,” which brought together more than 150 participants and volunteers. And later this year, Lewis will be a speaker at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women as part of the Young Women’s Program. Until then, here’s the next best thing to bottling her spirit—three mantras she lives by:
#1. Never give up.
#2. Be proud of your failures and successes.
#3. You’re never too young—or old—to make a difference.
Zaniya Lewis will be speaking on a panel about overcoming bias as part of the Young Women’s Program at the 2018 PA Conference for Women on October 12.