My sister, Anastasia Ali, and I were so proud to be invited again this year to Chairman of BET networks Debra L. Lee’s annual women’s summit, Leading Women Defined. I moderated a panel with three incredible young women. Everyone should know about them and the work they’re doing. Zedia Wright, an 18-year-old queer youth activist and community organizer in New York City, provided insight into the plight of over 20,000 homeless teenagers in the city who, because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, were thrown out by their families. She spoke of children’s arms being broken, having been brutally beaten by their own parents. She represented her peers and their cause brilliantly.  The whole room was in tears.

As the moderator of the panel, I really wanted the other participants to think of all the ways in which we too are responsible for the mindset and ideologies that would provoke a parent to disown and throw away her own child based on that child’s sexual identity–an ideology so engrained in our cultures and religions that thousands of kids are right now, at this moment, living on the street. Zedia is a youth leader and graduate of FIERCE’s Education and Liberation Project (ELP). When asked what she would like to come out of the summit, she responded that she’d like their center to be able to provide 24-hour support for the young people in NYC. For more info on the organization and how you can support what they’re doing, go to


Our next panelist was Marvelyn Brown, a young woman who discovered she was HIV positive when she was just 19 years old. I can’t imagine what that would have been like for me at 19. At that age, I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. But somehow, Marvelyn has taken her personal trial and made it an opportunity to serve others. As an HIV/AIDS activist, she speaks around the world, urging people to get tested and informing folks that there is life after such a diagnosis. She is living proof.

Marvelyn shared a story that really shook me. She said that she had hit rock bottom shortly after finding out that she was HIV positive. She was sleeping in her car one night in a shopping mall parking lot. She woke up to a bright light that filled her entire car. It was a truck headed straight for her. She was terrified but made an amazing breakthrough. She realized that she wanted to live, regardless of her illness, and she had the power to live her life as she saw fit. HIV would not get the best of her. From there, her activism began so that others would not have to contract the disease because they were misinformed or uneducated about it. Marvelyn’s website is


Our third panelist was Kari Fulton, an award-winning environmental justice advocate and new media journalist. In 2009, Kari co-founded, a website dedicated to amplifying the resources and voices of young people of color in the environmental sector. She praised the work of another LWD speaker, Lisa P. Jackson, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The conversation about the environment has shifted, giving greater voice to the concerns of urban communities. What have long been held as social ills are now being understood as environmental and ecological problems that can be and must be addressed, such as overcrowding, food deserts, air and water pollution, and lack of green spaces. I was blown away.

There’s a great deal of work being done all around us. If you’re not involved yet, it’s time to get in the game. ‘Cause our world is actually changing. Thank God.

Tatyana Ali 

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