In February 2022, The Estée Lauder Companies announced the recipients of a $3M literacy impact initiative, WRITING CHANGE, designed to promote equity, access, and artistic expression among underrepresented and underserved communities, particularly those of women and girls. The recipients of the funding represent different realms of the social and artistic landscape, but all are vested in the belief that writing change happens when inspiration is sparked by things like community, confidence, and uncensored creative voice.
This initiative was inspired by Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in United States history. Her writing and voice have sparked global change and inspiration for so many. As a young poet and writer, Gorman stands on the shoulders of creative giants including Maya Angelou, Tracy K. Smith, and Nikki Giovanni, to name a few.
“We wanted organizations that had strong roots and knew their soil and sun. As we continue this program, I hope grantees of the WRITING CHANGE initiative achieve the idea that they are both growing and evolving but also deepening the roots and the work they are already doing,” said Gorman. “I hope that the visibility and resources that WRITING CHANGE offers will help these organizations become even better than they already are while ideating and creating in new ways.”
In July, The Estée Lauder Companies hosted a virtual roundtable for all of the first-year grantees, including representatives from We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit promoting literacy and diversity; WriteGirl, a mentoring organization that encourages creativity and empowerment for girls; MIGIZI, a Minnesota-based initiative for the educational and cultural development of Native American youth; and Girls Write Now, a national organization that focuses on mentorship, community-building and creative expression.
On that July evening, about a dozen unassuming, smiling faces from each of the organizations connected virtually from all over the country. COVID-19 has left many wresting with the idea and difficulty of how to make connections. However, that evening everyone in the virtual space intentionally connected because of her commitment to literacy and the development of creative voices.
Kaitlyn Patterson of We Need Diverse Books noted, “We’re doing such important work at such a scary time, but the work that we’re doing makes a huge difference, and so I am very grateful to be in this room and want to recognize Estée Lauder Companies and Amanda for bringing us together in this way. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Anna Klein, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs, ESG Communications, began the evening with introductions and informed every one of the rules of engagement: that there were none. The roundtable was a safe space to share, confess, and proclaim just what WRITING CHANGE had been for them in the first year. If success were measured by the level of confidence or degree of transformation, there would be no doubt of this initiative’s unbelievable impact. A variety topics and issues were discussed as each organization and grant recipient discussed her experience and evolution as writer, musician, girl, woman, or creative. One common theme was that of imposter syndrome and how diminishing it can lead to creativity, confidence, and self-expression.
“Imposter syndrome is a gendered and racial issue. We know statistically it’s such a stereotyped threat, how students of color feel showing up for tests that they’ve been told they are going to do poorly at because they are Black or Hispanic or Indigenous. Research shows that if a woman sees a job application, and she has nine of the ten qualifications, she is going to believe she is not qualified for that job while men who only have a handful of those qualifications are going to apply,” Gorman said.
She further reiterated, “That is to say that everything we are talking about from imposter syndrome to the planet, and democracy to abortion, is tied to the work we are doing.”
By the end of the session, it was clear that creative community sustained and propelled many of the voices at the roundtable. Transformation prevailed because of mentorships, critique sessions, and liberating free expression experienced by the participants. It was best expressed by those who had the incredible privilege of being a part of The Estée Lauder Companies initiative WRITING CHANGE, as noted with quotes below.
“Write Girl built my confidence. We have what it takes to be our best selves and [they] prepared me for college. They have a way of showing you that there are people who are genuinely here to help. You have to find the good people and they are the good people.” -Victoria Rosales, WriteGirl mentee. “I am a writer.” -Asma Al-Masyabi, Girls Write Now mentee and intern.
“Everything that every organization is doing here today, directly impacts all those fears. We know that girls who are more literate and can read more have more reproductive control over their future destinies,” Gorman concluded with a smile and air snaps.
About the author: Genyne Henry Boston is a lifelong educator, student of storytelling, and enthusiast of books and writing. She is a member of the inaugural cohort of the 2022 Black Creatives Fund sponsored by ELC WRITING CHANGE inaugural grantee, We Need Diverse Books. Genyne is an aspiring children’s author and hopes the next chapter of her career will afford opportunities to create children’s literature that honors ancestral pasts, enlightens young minds, and ignites a love for reading.