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Interview with a Political & Neuro Active 16 y/o, Kaylah Holmes!

Kaylah Holmes is a 16 year old student passionate about women’s advocacy and neuroscience. She works for the IYNA as well as Generation Ratify and has combined her love for both women’s advocacy and Neuro into her organization FemNeuro! A platform for women’s representation in STEM.

Interview by Daania Sharifi

Could you introduce yourself?

Hello! My name is Kaylah Holmes, I am a 16 year old high school student. I am really passionate about Neuroscience, women’s advocacy, and politics. I work for several organizations. I am the Director of Mentorship at the International Youth Neuroscience Association, a State Director for Generation Ratify, and run my own organization that combines Neuro with Women’s representation: FemNeuro. Outside of Neuroscience and advocacy I have been a dancer for 10 years, I also enjoy singing, drawing, piano, and multimedia!

Nice to meet you Kaylah! So how did you first get interested in politics, advocacy, & women’s advocacy?

I’ve always been a staunch advocate for equal rights. I think that usually just comes along with being a POC in a country like the U.S. However, once I learned about feminism I honed in on the idea of intersectionality and learned more about the injustices going on at home and all over the world. Politics ultimately ties into advocacy and I’ve always been curious on how we can use political power and legislation to better the world and serve our communities.

What about neuroscience? It’s a very different field from politics, how did you get interested in that?

I first became interested in the brain in general in middle school. I had actually attended a class at Cornell and in the hallway there was a cabinet that had brains in a glass jar. I simply found it fascinating. I actually went home and researched a lot about the brain after that. From that moment on I ended up watching tons of neurosurgery videos for fun. At the end of middle school we had an eighth grade pig dissection. No one wanted to dissect the brain so I did. My teacher ended up complimenting me and said it was the best brain dissection she had seen in five years, this was a solidifying moment for me. Since then I have done my best to increase my knowledge and pursue this field in the best ways I can. Overall, Neuroscience is interesting to me because it actually tells us a lot about people and certain topics we wouldn’t expect, including politics.

Oh my god, brains in a jar. Well that’s definitely interesting haha. So from that you got involved in several organizations. Even combining two of your interests into one to create “FemNeuro” Could you tell us what it is? What is the goal?

FemNeuro is a blog and an online initiative combined, that works to bridge the gap. Women’s advocacy in STEM and Neuroscience is a pressing issue that requires this generation of young people to fight against. Our goal is to create a safe space for women to not only hear each other but to shy away from remaining silent about the obstacles they face on the basis of sex. We want to use our platform to create opportunities and give a voice to young women and girls on the scientific ideas and issues that they care about. Eventually we want to be able to provide grants and opportunities for more girls to get involved in this field.

Absolutely love that! What is the big mission? Where do you see FemNeuro in 5 years? What have you accomplished so far?

So far, FemNeuro has been interviewing a diverse plethora of women to share their individual experiences within gender discrimination and too offer advice to the future generation of girls in Neuro and STEM. This month we are branching out and having girls start chapters in their school as well as having our podcast launch this month. The podcast will feature a great group of black and Queer women in honor of pride month and BLM. For the future I would love to have a space in NY, and run an internship/camp for girls to experience life in neuroscience and STEM and gain hands on experience in the field. The society for neuroscience runs an award ceremony every year and one of the opportunities is “work for the advancement of women in neuroscience” I envision FemNeuro being able to achieve that in the future.

What about being Director of Mentorship for the International Youth Neuro Association? What is International Youth Neuro? What do you do as a director?

The International Youth Neuroscience Association is a global youth-led 501 c (3) that focuses on providing opportunities for the younger generation to pursue neuroscience as well as engage in research and neuro related activities of their own. As the director of Mentorship I head our Mentorship program which is a chance for high school students to meet as a mentee with college students majoring in Neuroscience or other biological sciences. I recruit and manage the program. The students get the chance to learn directly from someone in Neuro and it helps to facilitate their journey into their college career where they will most likely pursue neuroscience.

How did you get involved with Generation Ratify? & What do you do as State Director?

Like I said before, I’ve always been interested in advocacy and intersectionality. In order to help further this interest and create an impact I decide to search for ways to get involved directly in women’s rights and policy. So I just did a bit of research and Generation Ratify was one of the main organizations that caught my interest. Luckily, they were hiring at the time and I ended up getting the position to State Director. As a director I work with my Co-Director and state team to help make sure legislators are upholding the values cemented by the ERA. To do this my partner and I have met with our senators and their teams in order to go over policy that ensures women are protected and urge them to push other senators into ratifying it in their own states. We also work on other projects to help raise awareness. For example we are working on a festival we will be holding next year in order to raise awareness surrounding abortion rights, gender rights, etc.

What is your biggest inspiration? What inspires you about them/it?

I think the biggest thing that inspires me is motivation for the future. I’m still a bit uncertain about what exact path I expect my life to go, however I’m excited to see what the future will hold. The things I do now are all evident of what I want to play a role in my life as I get older. So knowing that there's a future out there for me and I can help shape it now is what drives me to try and create impactful change in my teen years.

How do you feel about the BLM movement? Protests? ACAB?

I think that Black lives matter is essential to the reformation of the nation. I attended a BLM protest a few weeks ago and the energy was unmatched. Without the protests and aid from black lives matter I am certain that the officers involved wouldn’t have been charged and the Minneapolis police department would still be intact. The protests have all been a beautiful display of community and a representation of the built up tension as a result of the black experience in this country. I think that America is one of the worst places to be black out of all 1st world countries, but I know that there is opportunity to improve and rebuild. In terms of ACAB I think it is obvious that not all cops are bad people, and the phrasing may confuse others so I don’t use that term. However I support the message behind it in that this country was founded on slavery, built by slaves, and has turned around to essentially “bite the hand that feeds it”. The police were created to catch runaway slaves and since black American have the highest exoneration rate 47% despite being 13% of the country it is obvious that the system still upholds that purpose today

How do you use your platform and organizations to address diversity?

One of FemNeuro’s main goals is to provide to those who have been denied the chance at pursuing STEM. Statistically Asian, Latina, and Black women all graduate with STEM degrees below the 5% range. We specifically try to get interviews and stories from as many POC women as possible because their stories go beyond just gender discrimination but tie into racism as well. For BLM as well as pride we are leading an Initiative by creating FemNeuro stickers for the proceeds to go to BLM, as well as individual funds for victims of police brutality For pride month our new podcast launch is featuring amazing, queer women in neuroscience.

Any advice for teens hoping to get into advocacy & neuroscience?

I would say don’t be afraid to just try. FemNeuro was just an idea before people agreed to help out and further the cause. Reach out to groups you want to work with surrounding neuro or advocacy and pitch your ideas. Especially in advocacy it is entirely what you make it. So if you want to run a BLM protest, run a policy idea by local legislation, create a podcast to discuss race relations, etc. just make sure to put yourself out their and be adamant In the pursuit of your goals. For Neuroscience I would say to try out for an internship, or take a few college classes, anything you can do to increase your knowledge and be an even better asset to the future of STEM!

Lastly, any advice for teens about life?

I would simply say to stop caring about the unimportant things. It took me a long time to realize that my life is my own and I should focus on the things that make me happy. Don’t waste time trying to impress others or seek validation from peers who don’t want the best for you. High school is a chance to have fun and find yourself, but it’s also the place to grow academically and set yourself up for college success. The sooner you stop caring about things that don’t make you happy and don’t support who you are authentically, the sooner you’ll find peace. Don’t be friends with people who don’t care about your wellbeing or don’t value your time, don’t enter into relationships that make you question your importance as a person, and don’t engage in activities that are detrimental to your health because you only have one body and one mind.

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