By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis

On Sept. 16, youth poet and activist Fatimata Cham ’23 performed a reading of her poem titled “Hope” at American Leadership in Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals, a joint online Brookings-UN Foundation event. 

Cham, who was the webcast’s youngest presenter, joined high-profile political and corporate leaders from throughout the nation in their effort to showcase the important role the commitment to equity, justice, and environmental preservation made by all parts of American society—including youth—plays in the country’s recovery from the devastating health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fatimata Cham speaks

Fatimata Cham

“The event centered and highlighted youth voices, and created a new path that allows youth to have an impact on resolving issues like hunger, poverty, gender inequity, climate change, and access to education,” Cham says, “and provide ideas that can help move our country forward.”

The event’s most notable attendees included Eric Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles; David Y. Ige, governor of Hawaii; Rose Stuckey Kirk, president of Verizon Foundation; and Kathleen McLaughlin, president of Walmart Foundation and executive vice president and chief sustainability officer of Walmart Inc., among others.

Cham was invited by the UN Foundation to participate in the event thanks to her work as a teen adviser, past member, and Lafayette chapter founder for their Girl Up campaign, which promotes gender equality and advances girls’ skills, rights, and opportunities to be leaders.  

“I felt empowered that they trusted me to represent the youth,” she says. “To be able to speak to people whom I’ve admired for so long made me feel like everything I’ve done so far to represent people from my community and people like me—a first-generation college student and a young Black Muslim woman also interning with a political campaign—it made me proud. It made me realize that now more than ever it’s important that we listen to the youth because they are directly impacted by the decisions others are making.”

“Hope,” which is a poem Cham wrote specifically for the Brookings-UN Foundation event, was inspired by Cham’s personal journey from being expected to fit into a particular mold as a child to discovering her unique identity as a young adult. 

“At 5 or 6 years old, I was taught to color inside the lines,” says Cham, who hopes to one day be the United States ambassador to the United Nations. “Then throughout my teenage life, I had to reevaluate who I was as a person, and that’s what a lot of people go through in life. To make change, you have to find what your purpose is, let go of that mold, and also revisit what it was like to be in that mold so that you can help others. This world is changing and evolving, and I wanted to re-instill a sense of hope in our youth and emphasize that their voice matters.” 

You can watch Cham’s poetry reading as well as other presentations made that evening by visiting the Brookings website.

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