We build women’s collective power in the U.S.

November 6, 2023

Grantee Partner Spotlight: I Am Why

by Samantha Cortez

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support our grantee partners, who are at the forefront of organizing and creating solutions that improve people’s lives and bring us closer to achieving a true democracy. The insight and perspective they provide is invaluable. The Q&A below was generated by Samantha Cortez, Social Media & Art Manager at I Am Why

I Am Why is a national, intergenerational organization catalyzing a power shift in which young women and gender expansive activists claim individual and collective power and use this power to advance their vision of justice. I Am Why is a Girls of Color Initiative grantee partner. 

What brought you to this work?

In April 2018, eight young women and gender-expansive activists gathered for a two-day workshop in New York City to express their strengths and visions for power and justice through photographic portraits and creative writing. The momentum and bond created during this workshop led to a major first step toward building models, policies, and programs influenced by narrative and lived experience. Since then, I Am Why has become a learning organization that connects young women and gender-expansive youth activists from different regions of the country in a virtual space.

How do you connect/collaborate in your community? Who are your key partners?

I Am Why has held many workshops in partnership with local organizations across the country. These workshops are led by our collective of young women and gender-expansive activists who are utilizing narrative and art to advocate for policy change. Progeny, which is a youth/adult partnership focused on reimagining the child welfare system, has been a critical partner of ours and has helped us develop two cohorts. Together, we worked on building a curriculum to empower young women to reimagine what the system can look like by creating tools such as I Am Why posters, zines, and a book.

What are you learning or what are you teaching?

Our consultants, who are individuals interested in continuing their professional development in policy and narrative, participate in four different learning pods:

  1. Embrace Creative Freedom creates a space to embrace poetry skills and apply them to social justice work. 
  2. Self Advocacy looks at how to implement advocacy skills in narrative and local policy.
  3. Speak On Us explores ways to build communication skills through research and writing and to utilize lived experience to create tools for social justice change and policy.
  4. Reproductive Justice focuses on the right to determine one’s own sexuality, gender, work, and reproductive choices. Within this pod is the sub-group Motherhood Support, where system-impacted young mothers hold and share space as they bond and celebrate their triumphs.

Tell us about a recent victory or something you’re proud of.

We at I Am Why take pride in turning art into advocacy. We use a methodology that connects young activists’ narratives to policy and practice. Our pod leads, who are individuals who have shown an interest in leadership and run our learning pods, host “action hours” for consultants, where they lead conversations that help participants crystallize their points of view and practice effecting positive social change. These initiatives create interconnecting networks, creative spaces, and communications tools, as well as opportunities for participants to reframe solutions and model shared power.

What can philanthropy do better, and/or how can individuals be helpful allies?

Knowledge is power. Bringing activists together uplifts their voices and lived experiences. We aim to reshape policies around reproductive justice, youth justice reform, and building wealth within communities of color by advocating for suppressed voices, respecting their stories, and sharing lessons learned. The knowledge we share will help inspire solutions to social justice issues and build young people’s power. As advocates, we call on change makers and allies to stand with us, share knowledge, and ally themselves with young women and gender-expansive youth by celebrating their strengths, and amplifying their voices and their visions for justice. 

What gives you hope?

Our stories are sacred and meant to be shared so we can reimagine the systems we aim to change. While some have tried to silence us, our self-determination moves us to create ideas for more effective policies, practices, and programs within our communities. Our community’s intergenerational and intercultural leadership will open doors and offer mentorship to our youth. When we take the time to reflect on the knowledge we have gained through our work, we know that we can change systems that lack compassion and empathy.