Interview with Zikora Akanegbu, founder of GenZHER & Team Member of GenZWrites!

Zikora Akanegbu is a 15-year-old high school student from Ellicott City, Maryland. Diligent, passionate, and driven, she is the founder and president of GenZHER. Through her initiative, she aims to provide marginalized voices of Generation Z girls with a place to share their opinion and stories, because their ideas are often dismissed because of their gender and age. She is also the Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator at GenZ Writes.

Interview by Daania Sharifi

Could you start off by introducing yourself to the readers? Name, age, interests, and what of stuff you spend time doing. Passions etc?

I’m Zikora Akanegbu, a 15-year-old gender equity activist from Ellicott City, Maryland. I am the Founder & President of GenZHER, as well as, the Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator for GenZ Writes. In my spare time, l enjoy spending time with family and friends and creating (videos, website design, art). I also enjoy writing as it provides me a platform where I can speak on the issues that I am passionate about. It allows me the time to organize and process my thoughts, so that I have the power to confidently convey them.

Talk to us about GenZHer. What is it about? What’s the mission? How did you start it? With what purpose in mind?

I have always been a do-er my whole life so I feel obliged to change the future of girls which I do through my initiative, GenZHER. My organization initially started out as something our I was working on. I expanded it and opened it up for other passionate Generation Z girls to contribute as well, as they could write about a wider variety. Since then, Gen Z girls from all over the world have joined and are contributing to my initiative. GenZHER has grown solely by word of mouth and our movement is just getting started! Today, it is a global, online media platform dedicated to amplifying the voices of Gen Z girls. GenZHER has connected & collaborated with 14+ partners globally, as well as, amassed thousands of article & website views globally and has a team of 20+ Gen Z girls from 4 different countries. The story behind it is that in our age of technology, unhealthy rivalry goes on in which girls see each other as competitors, despite a longtime campaign for unity. GenZHER was founded on the vision of empowering the marginalized voices of Gen Z girls are who are often underestimated because our generation, gender, and age.

That’s incredible! We absolutely love that mission and congratulate you on how far GenZHer has spread! What skills did you learn or or things about yourself from being involved in GenZHer as a founder and leader?

I didn’t envision GenZHER to become a movement or a or a large nonprofit organization, I just wanted to make a difference in as many lives as I could. People always assume that I went into this with activist experience, extensive leadership experience, or at least a broad knowledge of social issues. This can’t be farther from the truth — I went into this literally knowing nothing. As an example, even though I am a woman of color, when I started this organization I didn’t even know what the term intersectionality meant. In fact, even more surprisingly, I didn’t identify as a feminist. To sum it up, my experience as a founder has been a mix of listening and gaining knowledge from those around me and doing my best to learn from my failures and setbacks. I’d never done anything like this before, so it took (and is taking) time and hard work for me to master the skills that are needed to lead a nonprofit. I’m constantly leveraging my connections and thirst for knowledge.

So you are also an Outreach & Advocacy Coordinator for Genz Writes, could you tell us what GenZ Writes is about? Also what is your role?

GenZ Writes is a student-led online platform and digital community hub stomping grounds for Gen Z-ers. It works to empower the marginalized youth voices from across the globe by sharing stories written by Gen Z students and featuring GenZ-run organizations. I work with the Gen Z Writes team to empower Generation Z with a voice because I passionately believe our generation has the power to demand that our stories be heard and the power to impact change. It is a dream to be able to work alongside so many talented Gen Z individuals. I am in charge of conducting social media outreach tasks and establishing partnerships with other GenZ-run organizations for GenZ Writes!

What is your favorite part of being in all these organizations?

Quite simply, in two words: youth empowerment! When it comes to activism, young people’s voices are always underestimated. We’re constantly being excluded from conversations, we’re just there for the pictures, for organizations to say “we have a lot of young people here.” The passion of young people is key to creating innovative solutions and monumental progress. Youth are being directly affected by the current political issues. We have personal experience, we have passion, and we have our whole lives to work towards social justice. We will change the world. We often hear that 'Generation Z is the future,' but I believe Gen Z-ers are the present.

Who is your biggest inspiration? What is so inspiring about them?

Inspiration to me is when a person gives me enough motives to do or feel something beneficial or creative to others or myself. The biggest inspiration to me is my mom. She keeps me inspired. She never puts pressure on me and taught me to be the best I can be. She inspires me to serve others by her example. My mom is the toughest woman I know and everything I am today is because of her.

Who is your biggest supporter?

In all honesty, the biggest supporter in my life is myself. Why do I say this? It’s pretty simple. I know myself best. Of course, I may find people like family and friends who will support me and push me to go after what I want. But, the best thing I can do, is also to depend on myself first. At the end of the day, I owe it to myself to be my biggest supporter. Because, if not me, then who? I strive to be the best version of myself, for myself. When I do that, others will support me as well.

How have you been coping with quarantine? What do you do to pass time?

I privilege-check myself! Since I’m lucky to have a home to self-isolate in and work I can do online (as well as the wi-fi to do so). How I cope with the situation is by focusing on what I can control. I take the pandemic one day at a time. Right now, I do have a schedule as I go about the quarantine! I usually start my day at 7:30. I spend 4 hours on online courses and do GenZHER work for 3 hours. Self-care is super important to avoid burnout. All schoolwork aside, in my spare time I enjoy spending time with family, connecting with friends (through text message for now!), and unleashing my creative outlet through art. How did you find all these opportunities? I learn about opportunities through word of mouth. There are many organizations that you can connect with online and reach out to regarding working with them! Linkedln is a great way to connect with people and explore opportunities. I would suggest making one because it opens so many doors.

What advice do you have for teens that want to follow your footsteps and create their own intiative?

My advice is to start now. You want to do a lot of research before you officially start anything, and you have to be able to throw yourself into hours of work. If you are able to dedicate yourself to your cause and fully believe in it, then your initiative will inevitably succeed! Remember it’s okay not to be perfect. Being a female founder is a lot of resilience, hard work, and being your own champion. Always refer back to why you started your initiative in the first place to keep going when you start to doubt yourself. What advice do you have for teens in general?

My advice would be to believe in yourself. I want to let other teenagers know that we are capable of making that change. Society might tell us we can't and our own insecurities might make us think we aren't capable but the truth is that while anyone can make that difference not many people are. The impact you make doesn't need to solve every problem in the world or be a cure for cancer, it just needs to make a difference in someone's life.

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