Young Women’s Initiative of Minnesota

The Young Women’s Cabinet

The Young Women’s Cabinet, comprised of up to 32 young women and youth leaders (ages 16-24) from eight communities across Minnesota, is charged with ensuring that the work of the Young Women’s Initiative stays grounded in the lived experiences of the young women and youth from each community and the community-specific challenges and solutions they identified. The Cabinet has engaged in leadership development, been trained as policy advocates, and has directed nearly $1 million in grants to nonprofits and individuals to advance equity.

Zaynab Abdi

Zaynab Abdi

In her senior year at St. Catherine University, Zaynab is an honors student and student senate president in the College for Women. Following her academic passions has led Zaynab to triple major in political science, international relations, and philosophy. Zaynab is involved both domestically and globally. She currently works as an Immigrant and Refugee Youth Ambassador with Green Card Voices, where she co-authored an anthology that captures the stories of young immigrants in Minnesota. Zaynab also works alongside the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, as a youth advocate for girls’ education. Zaynab has spoken at the United Nations several times, and her story was featured in Malala’s book We Are Displaced. She plans to pursue a dual graduate degree in international affairs and human rights law. Zaynab wants to work with girls globally to support their education and leadership in building their own countries.

Janaan Ahmed

Janaan Ahmed

As a senior at Patrick Henry High School, Janaan is taking full college courses at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. She is the student representative on the Minneapolis Public School Board of Education and served as vice president on the Citywide Student Leadership Board. Janaan is a member of the YoUthROC equity research team, and is also the captain for both her varsity soccer and softball teams. Janaan enjoys staying active and being a part of a team. Her passions include reading and writing nonfiction, scrapbooking, and spending time with her favorite people. She also loves learning about cultural anthropology, politics, and education. Janaan hopes to get a doctoral degree in international and comparative education after obtaining a teaching degree in ethnic studies. Her dream is to improve the education system and increase the accessibility of education globally.

Jennifer Adams

Jennifer Adams

Jennifer is a junior attending White Bear Lake Area Schools. She is an enrolled member of the Ho-Chunk Nation and also takes pride in her Muscogee Creek and African American heritage. Locally she is working to bring awareness to inequitable school systems and protecting the earth and the earth’s water. Jennifer is also on the White Bear Lake Area School Board as the student liaison and contributed to the school’s strategic plan. She has a strong passion for learning as much as she can about social justice. In the future, she hopes to attend college and pursue an education administration license.

In'am Al-Hammouri

In’am Al-Hammouri

In’am attends Augsburg University, where she is a psychology major and member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. She plans to attend law school and focus on litigating. She has previously volunteered with Palestinian and Syrian refugees in the Middle East. In 2016, she volunteered at Unity Hospital to provide aid to women who had been abused. Most recently, she interned with the lawyer Lee Hutton at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in Minneapolis. In’am grew up observing the challenges faced by her Middle Eastern community, particularly women’s struggles to gain equality. Realizing that systems in the United States were not offering many opportunities or resources to help, she became determined to create those opportunities herself. In’am has resolved to consistently advocate for Middle Eastern women by championing women’s rights, gender equality, and supporting women as leaders and public policymakers. In her free time, In’am enjoys playing the piano, exploring the city, and making new friends.

María Arreola

María Arreola

María is a junior at Macalester College studying political science and sociology with a minor in Spanish. She is currently a Mellon Mays Fellow and an intern at COPAL. Her Mellon research focuses on the role of sanctuary churches in St. Paul and Chicago. She is also a former INCE Museum Fellow, an experience that allowed her to consider a potential future career as a museum professional. María hopes to continue her education and attend graduate school. She is currently interested in art as activism, community organizing, and what it means to be an advocate.

Natalie Bebeau

Natalie Bebeau

An enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Natalie serves as the chairperson on the Ball Club Local Indian Council. Natalie has become a role model for young women in her community by becoming the first female to join the Deer River Warriors’ 1,000-point club in basketball. During high school, Natalie participated in Close Up, LINK Crew, and was a captain in basketball and softball. Natalie has been involved in The Movement, a drug and alcohol prevention program, since sixth grade and is now involved with the Standing Together Embracing Prevention (S.T.E.P) Coalition. Additionally, she is the Deer River High School LINK Crew advisor and junior high girls’ basketball coach. She is proud to be serving and giving back to her community.

Elizabeth Burnett

Elizabeth Burnett

From Waubun, Minn., Elizabeth Ozaawigwanikwe (Brown Feather Woman) is 16 and goes by Ozaawaa. She is a tribally enrolled member of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Chippewa from Wisconsin and is also a tribal descendant from the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa from Belcourt, N.D. primarily grew up on the White Earth Reservation. She attended Ogema Elementary and is currently a junior at Waubun High School. Her school system has provided her with extraordinary support and tribal mental health has helped her to succeed in school. Opportunities such as Close Up, which allowed her to travel to Washington, D.C., have grown her understanding of government and history and allowed her to meet Minnesota legislators. Ozaawaa’s life experiences have helped to shape her perspective as a young woman. She has had many strong women as mentors and role models in her life, including her grandmother, Kookum Betty Migizikwe Laverdure, and homeless liaison, Ms. Diana King, who helped guide Ozaawaa. Finally, support from her family and community, along with practicing her traditional cultural values and beliefs, has been central to Ozaawaa’s developing her strength as a young woman.

Yameha Burnett-Hollins

Yameha Burnett-Hollins

Yameha is a gunshot-wound survivor and advocate. As a former foster child, she aspires to improve the quality of life for foster children in Minnesota and has also protested with Moms Demand Action to fight current gun laws. Through Yameha’s lived experience and understanding of systems and institutions, she hopes to help other young sexual assault victims and survivors who live beneath the poverty line to continue their education and live healthy lives. She also wants to bring to light the struggles of emancipated young people in a state that refuses to acknowledge the independence of its emancipated minors. Yameha’s goal is to pursue a career in the health care field. Since being emancipated, she has received both her CNA Certification and GED and will be attending St. Paul College in the spring.

Calonna Carlisle

Calonna Carlisle

A freshman at Hamline University with plans to major in biology and minor in music, Calonna is especially proud of her Native American (Mdewakanton Sioux) and African American heritage. She is looking forward to becoming a veterinarian and hopes to use music therapy in her practice. She was selected to participate in Hamline’s HU-Lead Pathway program where she participated in leadership development, social justice through community service, diversity and inclusion, and health and wellness. Calonna enjoys volunteering for her community and has supported Be the Match, Feed My Starving Children, Infants at Caring Hearts, and organizing a food drive. She has lobbied with Proof Alliance, formally MOFAS, during Day at the Capitol, where she met with legislators to discuss fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Calonna is the recipient of the 2019 Kevin Jerome Parker Youth Service Award for outstanding service to her church, school, and community. She participated in the 2019 debutante cotillion sponsored by the Ivy Foundation. During high school, Calonna participated in varsity track; USA Gymnastics, where she participated in State, Regional, and Western competitions; vocal and instrumental music; theater; and as an advocate for educational services for students with disabilities.

Mariana Cervantes

Mariana Cervantes

Mariana is a senior at Hamline University where she is double majoring in criminal justice and legal studies and working towards a paralegal certificate and a Spanish certificate. At Hamline, she is also vice president of the Hispanic and Latinx Organization (HALO). Mariana works as a paralegal at a local immigration law firm, where she has learned valuable career and life skills. Through Mariana’s work with immigrants, she has found a passion in advocating for immigrant rights. In the future, Mariana would like to attend law school and become an immigration or criminal attorney. When time permits, Mariana enjoys traveling to see her family in Chicago and Guadalajara. She enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and her puppy Tito.

Britney Chino

Britney Chino

Britney is double majoring in criminal justice and economics at Inver Hills Community College. At the beginning of high school, her passion for contributing to her community led her to become a grassroots organizer. She hosts a radio show, “First Gen Radio” on KRSM 98.9, which features political and social commentary on the realities of being a first-generation American today. She is a co-founder of META, a mutual aid organization focused on delivering resources to black, Indigenous, and people of color. She is a member of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, an organization that provides resources and aid to Minnesotan immigrants in need. Britney also helped create a Chicano ethnic studies class for District 196 high schools called “Adelante!” that introduces Chicano politics, literature, and the 1960s movement to Chicano students.

Athena Cloud

Athena Cloud

An enrolled member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, Athena recently earned her bachelor’s degree in sociology and American Indian studies from Augsburg University. Athena is now an American Indian educator for the Robbinsdale School District, specializing in working with Native youth across the district as a member of the Indian Education Department. Throughout the years, Athena has worked diligently to address disparities that affect American Indian communities across the state. She is a former Miss Red Lake Nation Princess and served a one-year term representing the Nation. She works with Native nations and community programs to initiate Mino-Bimaadiziwin, a good life, for those with whom she works. Athena has created her own way of promoting a healthy lifestyle by using “Powwow Zumba” as a way to motivate participants to get active and moving through traditional powwow dancing with a twist. Athena has also shared her own story and obstacles to motivate Native youth to push through the barriers of systems that were not designed for them. Athena is very proud of the work she has done and will continue to do to pave the way for the next generation of American Indian leaders.

Shimarrion Daily

Shimarrion Daily

Originally from Chicago, Shimarrion was raised by her uncle after the early death of her parents. She has overcome a lot of barriers in life, which have made her the fierce and ambitious person she is today. Shimarrion moved to Minnesota for better opportunities to create a future of safety and stability for herself and her children. Being self-motivated and resourceful, she secured housing, learned how to parent, maintained work through an internship working with homeless youth, and became a member of Irreducible Grace, a support community for youth struggling with trauma and seeking healing. Shimarrion is also an advocate for affordable housing and eliminating mental health stigmas in the African American community. Thus far, her journey has instilled in her a passion for working with homeless youth and offering encouragement to others by sharing her own story.

Flora Fouladi

Flora Fouladi

Originally from San Francisco, Calif., Flora is a senior at Macalester College studying political science and data science. Flora is passionate about equity work, political analysis, and working within the LGBTQ+ community. At Macalester, she is a leader of the Queer Women’s Identity Collective (QWIC). As a Macalester Chuck Green Civic Engagement fellow, she wrote a pilot curriculum for RECLAIM’s peer education program designed to teach LGBTQ+ youth about healthy relationship skills. Flora has interned for Senator Tina Smith’s Saint Paul office, and with policy teams at a San Francisco tech company and the Office of Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan.

Raie Gessesse

Raie Gessesse

Raie is a senior studying public health and political science at Hamline University. Her academic interests stem from a commitment to issues of gender and racial equity, health, and justice. As a result, she has engaged in numerous leadership positions, internships, and public service opportunities, such as working as a community educator with Planned Parenthood and as a legislative intern with the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services. She currently serves on the Cultural and Ethnic Leadership Council, the National Young Women’s Advisory Council, the Minnesota Public Health Association, and is a fellow for the largest nonpartisan young women’s political organization in the country, IGNITE National.

Gabrielle Hawkinson

Gabrielle Hawkinson

Gabrielle is currently a junior at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, studying sociology with a focus in policy analysis. She is an active member of Alpha Phi and participates in philanthropic events and activities. Gabrielle is also Bdewakantunwan and part of the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC). In high school, she was the secretary of the SMSC Youth Leadership Council. SMSC held discussions with youth in the community and held fundraisers for reservations in need. Gabrielle aspires to attend business or law school and pursue a career where she can make positive change for minority communities.

Evelyn Humphrey

Evelyn Humphrey

Evelyn grew up on a farm in Wanamingo, Minn., and is currently a sophomore at Hamline University studying political science with a minor in business analytics. Her interest in politics began early. She has always admired leaders who advocate and represent the voices of marginalized communities Growing up with a stutter, Evelyn felt that her voice was not as important because she could not speak as clearly as other people. In 2018, Evelyn became Kenyon-Wanamingo High School’s first state champion in public speaking. At age 17, she completed the High School Page Program at the Minnesota State Capitol. Ever since being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after completing her internship, Evelyn has been an advocate for health-related issues. During her freshman year at Hamline, she interned with Senator Matt Little. During this time, she focused on legislation that would lower insulin prices across Minnesota.

Ollie Kalthoff

Ollie Kalthoff

Ollie Kalthoff is a recent graduate of Mahtomedi High School and Century College, where they earned their associate degree through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) and participated in various social justice clubs and events. Ollie started their own company that provides workshops to middle schools and high schools on how to create a more safe and welcoming learning environment for LGBT+ students. They attend St. Catherine University and are working towards a bachelor’s degree in English with a critical studies of race and ethnicities minor.

Benya Kraus

Benya Kraus

Hailing from Waseca, Minn., and Bangkok, Thailand, Benya graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Tufts University in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in international relations and minors in urban studies and colonialism studies. While at Tufts, she served as president of the Tufts Community Union Senate and worked as a Minneapolis Urban Scholar with the city’s Community Planning & Economic Development department. After graduation, searching for a pathway back to Waseca, she realized that there is little infrastructure and cultural narrative to bring young talent back to small towns, rural areas, and economically distressed urban communities to engage in public service. She went on to co-found Lead for America, a national nonprofit that supports young people’s return to their hometowns through two-year paid fellowships with the mission of catalyzing community renewal, strengthening public institutions, and building locally rooted, systems-oriented changemaking. Supported by the Bush Foundation, Benya has returned home to launch the next state affiliate of Lead for Minnesota in her hometown of Waseca. In addition to Lead for America, Benya serves as the youngest member elected to the Amnesty USA Board of Directors.

Rayanna Lennes

Rayanna Lennes

As a proud Prairie Island Indian Community tribal member, Rayanna works daily to share the story of Prairie Island as the tribe’s communications manager. Rayanna also chairs the tribe’s Wicozani Wašte “Good Health” Committee, which aims to improve the lives of community members by raising awareness of healthy lifestyles and improving access to healthy foods through increased food sovereignty. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in strategic communications. When she is not working, Rayanna loves to travel, get outdoors, and spend time with her friends and large family. Growing up in a family of many different skin tones, and with a disabled younger brother, taught her that great beauty and many life lessons come from not only acknowledging diversity, but from taking the time to listen, understand, and celebrate people’s differences. Rayanna is eager to apply her perspective and experiences to her work with the Young Women’s Cabinet and positively impact the lives of others.

Teighlor McGee

Teighlor McGee

Teighlor is a disability advocate and performance artist whose work centers racial justice and health care reform. An experienced writer, facilitator, and content creator organizing around issues related to disability rights, Teighlor is the founder of the Black Disability Collective, an online movement that centers the narratives and lives of black disabled individuals. Teighlor is also a member of the 2019-2020 WFMN Innovators cohort. Teighlor is the YWI Coordinator for Women for Political Change (WFPC) and works alongside WFPC and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to organize community-centered events.

Nayzeth Muniz

Nayzeth Muniz

A junior at Worthington High School and a PSEO Student at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Nayzeth comes from a single-parent household that includes her mom and sister. She plans to graduate high school with her associate degree in general education. Nayzeth has recently been advocating for students and adults by bringing attention to issues in her Worthington community, especially driven by the racially charged media stories about her hometown. Nayzeth is also involved in a number of college-bound organizations and school clubs, and her work has been highlighted in newspaper publications. If she is not in class or conducting advocacy, Nayzeth can be found in her school library. She is a violinist, loves running, and enjoys watching shows and videos on Netflix or YouTube.

Janet Nguyen

Janet Nguyen

Janet (pronounced Juh-Nette) is the Gender Justice Organizer with the Asian American Organizing Project, doing gender and reproductive justice work within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Their work centers around uplifting the voices of and cultivating space for queer Asian folks and Asian women and girls. They see a lot of opportunities for intersections between community organizing and legislative work and are excited to be a part of the YWI Cabinet. In their free time, they have been learning how to cook and have been rediscovering traditional Vietnamese cuisine dish by dish. Janet enjoys curating moody Spotify playlists and traversing the Twin Cities by alternative transportation. One of Janet’s favorite ways to unwind after a long week is spending time with their loved ones and getting boba tea.

Oluwatobi Oluwagbemi

Oluwatobi Oluwagbemi

Oluwatobi (Tobi) is a woman of extensive educational interests. She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Cloud State University with an emphasis on international relations, political science, and gender and women’s studies. She is passionate about politics, social justice advocacy, writing and community building, and gender and international policy. She has a deep love for learning about people’s cultures. She wants to change the world with her words through stories and is dedicated to changing people’s lives. Ultimately, Tobi wants to create safer and more welcoming spaces that are equitable and to continue her learning about policies and systems impacting the lived experience of young women and marginalized communities. In her personal life, Tobi is a self-care enthusiast.

Beyza Pierre

Beyza Pierre

Beyza is an upper-class student at Saint Cloud State University (SCSU) studying criminal justice and human relations. As former president of the Organization for the Prevention of AIDS in Africa (OPAA) at SCSU, Beyza is still actively involved in HIV and AIDS awareness and sexual health advocacy. Having worked with crime victims and incarcerated women, Beyza most enjoys utilizing community resources to assist women and people of color in navigating unfamiliar spaces. She also enjoys volunteering with incarcerated offenders and is passionate about creative art and learning about other cultures around the world.

Jaidyn Probst

Jaidyn Probst

Jaidyn is Bdewakantunwan (Spirit Lake Dwellers) Dakota and comes from Cansayapi (Where They Paint the Trees Red), otherwise known as Lower Sioux. Jaidyn is a Cabinet representative on the National Young Women’s Advisory Council. Jaidyn is in her first year at Harvard College, where she is on the pre-med track pursuing a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a secondary degree in global health and health policy. Jaidyn completed a Short-Term Research Experience for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) internship in summer 2019, presented her findings at the National Institutes of Health, and became a published researcher. At school, she is involved in the Native Americans at Harvard College (NAHC) student organization and is a member of the Emerging Scholars Program class of 2023 cohort. Jaidyn hopes to go to medical school and become a pediatrician.

Lulu Regules Verduzvo

Lulu Regules Verduzco

A senior at St. Olaf College, Lulu is double majoring in political science and American studies, with a concentration in women’s and gender studies. At St. Olaf she serves on the executive board of the College Democrats. Lulu’s passion for human rights has driven her to pursue a career in immigration law. Most recently, Lulu interned in the Washington, D.C., office of Senator Tina Smith. In addition, she has been a legal intern at the St. Thomas School of Law, and a policy analyst at the Minnesota Department of Human Services in the Child Safety and Permanency Unit. Her research at the Department of Human Services guided the development of a Human Trafficking Response Guide that will be used in Minnesota’s Child Protection and Child Welfare system. Previously, Lulu was an executive office intern at Women Winning, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping pro-choice women run for public office.

Amerees Noodin (Wind) Tejohn

Amerees Noodin (Wind) Tejohn

Amerees Noodin (Wind) is an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Chippewa from Cass Lake, Minn. Her parents are residents of Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada, and she has three younger brothers. Her two sets of aunts and uncles have been great mentors for her as a young woman and have given her immense strength. They have also opened their hearts and home, provide substantial support, and treat her with kindness and love. Amerees is blessed to have a loving support system to embrace her and give her a safe, stable, and loving place to grow. She currently lives on the White Earth Reservation, where she is furthering her education with plans to attend college. Amerees is a member of the Rising Sun Community Council of Waubun and serves as their youth representative. She attends traditional cultural ceremonies, where she has met many inspirational people. Amerees has been fortunate to be nurtured by strong women, which has helped to sustain her belief in empowering others, including by sharing the teachings she has learned.

Ponny White

Ponny White

Ponny White is a senior at Minnesota State University Moorhead, double majoring in multimedia journalism and political science with an emphasis in women’s and gender studies. Ponny is a dedicated reproductive rights activist and works with organizations including Advocates for Youth and Planned Parenthood to lobby Congress for legislation in support of young people’s access to affordable reproductive healthcare. As the president of both her college’s Black Student Union and Campus Feminist organization, Ponny has orchestrated free, inclusive, and comprehensive sexual education courses at her university. She currently organizes a fundraiser which allocates and distributes free emergency contraceptive pills on campus. After her family’s experiences with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ponny began working as co-director at a local nonprofit that serves immigrant families. As an immigrant American and first-generation college student, Ponny understands the systemic disadvantages marginalized groups constantly experience, which is why she strives to center black, queer, and bodies of color in her public service work.

Bla Yang

Bla Yang

Originally from Milwaukee, Wis., Bla moved to Minnesota alone when she was 17. She currently attends Minnesota State in Mankato, where she is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in social work. After graduation, she plans to achieve a master’s in social work. Bla’s ambition and desire is to become a successful young Hmong woman and the first person in her family to achieve a bachelor’s degree. She wants to be a role model for her community and show that anything is possible, even as a woman from a non-dominant culture. Bla is a foodie who enjoys music, cooking, and working out.