Women’s History Month: Amanda Ebokosia Empowers Marginalized Communities

Lead. Be Brazen. Lead. Be Resilient. Lead. Be Strong.

That’s what you’ll read on the website of the Gem Project, founded by Amanda Ebokosia, a Nigerian-American named one of Forbes ’30 Under 30′ in 2013.

[Related: Black Women Business Owners Outpace All Other Startups Six Times National Average]

Ebokosia is certainly following her own advice. As a 19-year-old sophomore at Rutgers University, Ebokosia founded what developed into the Gem Project, as a way of coping with upheaval in her family. “Board-driven and volunteer-led, working with student volunteers from Rutgers, the Gem Project informs peers about things that could impact them, in a way that compels them to act,” Ebokosia says. “The purpose of the Gem Project is to educate young people about issues that matter to them and that allow them to utilize their leadership skills, develop their agency, and educate each other.”

Described by Forbes as a ‘Millennial on a Mission,’ Ebokosia clearly wants to empower young people. The Gem Project is involved on several fronts: literacy, autism, a “real beauty” campaign, college campus marches, entrepreneurial contests, and more. It’s in the planning stages of a fellowship that is expected to launch in 2017. It will focus on addressing the social emotional needs of youngsters impacted by trauma.

“We want to develop the social-emotional skills of young people,” Ebokosia says. “Our plan is to put in place leadership development training at a school-based site and provide extended-day learning and programming that focuses on building social emotional—focused service-learning projects.”

Although “social emotional” is becoming the new buzzword in education circles, the ability to navigate socially and to understand your own and others’ emotional states is key to academic, and even professional advancement. It’s no secret that there is an emotional component to learning; if kids can’t manage their own emotions or respect those of others, it will be hard for them to learn.

“Young people need academics,” Ebokosia says, “but they also need programming that supports their social emotional development to help them solve social issues within their communities.”

She is targeting at-risk populations in Newark. Ebokosia recognizes what has perhaps been known for some time, but essentially ignored: “Providing equal resources is not enough.” Money can be a huge part of the answer; it is not a silver bullet.

“Youth can experience trauma that affects how they view the world. Responsible leaders are more likely to achieve academically, to feel empowered to do well in school and in life.”

Partnering with organizations, public schools, and charters, the Gem Project offers workshops that expose young people to different careers. “We want to empower young people economically and help them to develop their skill set,” Ebokosia says.

Schools can go on the organization’s website to request workshops.