Zaniya Lewis is a college entrepreneur and student activist that founded a non-profit organization, Yes She Can Campaign, four years ago to help other young women overcome adversity and transition into college successfully. She is currently a senior at The George Washington University, from New Jersey, studying Political Science and Human Services & Social Justice. She is hoping for a career in public service, government, or law. Zaniya won an essay contest in 2016 that allowed her to grace the cover of Seventeen Magazine with Michelle Obama. Essence Magazine, BET, and more have also covered her and her movement.
Her Campus: How has the journey with YesSheCan been so far?
Zaniya Lewis: YesSheCan started just sharing little stories on Instagram and a lot of the girls lacked resources within their communities, so my organization makes sure that they are provided with that. My organization and I created a remote internship program during the summer so students can work or take extra classes at the same time. We have a conference every year where we teach students how to apply to college, apply to scholarships and more. I was grateful to have many opportunities like the cover of Seventeen Magazine and traveling to South Africa with the NBA, but many students are unaware of what is out there.
HC: How do you go about providing those resources?
ZL: We currently have a program at GW that provides college and career readiness skills to a group of high school students at School Without Walls. It is important for us to teach them about life skills because many of them do not have this type of support at home or at their schools. We teach them their purpose and how they can get funding for their education and their personal goals. We also teach online courses for free and go around the country doing workshops, based upon what an organization might need us to do. We also have a career immersion program called, The Climb Tour, where we bring them to tour a company and panel discussion with employees. You can’t dream something if you can’t see it.
HC: What are some of the financial struggles you’ve endured?
ZL: When we first started, we made a GoFundMe page to pay the forms and legal fees of becoming a business. I didn’t want my programming to be expensive, I wanted it to be accessible for everyone. We get sponsorships for our programs and apply for grants. People donate to our organization and we also sell apparel to raise money. It’s a grind every day to get money for the programs.
HC: What was the essay that got you in front of Michelle Obama?
ZL: My essay was about inspiring other people to change the world. I grew up as a military kid and that really showed me about sacrifice and service. My mom always said we have to pay it forward. I talked about how my passion for service inspired others and growing up at a predominantly white high school, which I think resonated with Michelle Obama because that happened to her as well. After the magazine, I felt like I had to do more because people were looking to me.
HC: Essence Magazine wrote an article on you about your experience with scholarship displacement at GW. What has YesSheCan been doing to combat that issue?
ZL: Everyone didn’t know this was an issue. I started researching and found out that many colleges besides GW. We went to Capitol Hill to try to get it to be a federal law. I pushed for our New Jersey senator to introduce a bill to ban it for public universities there. We are trying to get that bill passed by the end of the year and start targeting other states.
HC: So you just created Zaniya Lewis Inc recently. What are the plans for your personal brand?
ZL: I do speaking engagements to other non-profits and schools to share my story. I will also be consulting others on how to start a business, create apparel, write grants, design websites, and more. This will be a new chapter for me that I’m excited for.
HC: What do you see for YesSheCan in the future?
ZL: We hope to expand our college and career readiness program to New Jersey and bring The Climb Tour to different states like DC or LA. Young men have been attracted to our message as well, and we do support them too. Our programs are open to everybody, regardless of gender.
Find out more by visiting yesshecancampaign.org