One of the greatest gifts that we’ve ever been given has been the opportunity to sit down with young people across countries and continents and listen to their experiences, struggles and unwavering hope for their individual — and our collective — futures. It has been fuel for my daughter and me both on our brightest and darkest days and a deep well of inspiration and joy, every day. It is because of these young people and their stories that we founded Born This Way Foundation and with them, and our incredible team, we work every day to build a kinder, braver world. We are so proud and grateful to also have the opportunity to celebrate 10 years of Born This Way Foundation.
I could talk forever about the stories that I carry in my heart every day; the young woman in Brazil who used our #BeKind21 invitation as an opportunity to stop self-harming, the young man in the parking lot in Las Vegas that opted to stay and live another day because of the Find Your Anchor box that I had in my purse, or the boy in Seattle, celebrating with his beautiful, chosen family after being forced to leave his home because he bravely spoke his truth and came out to his parents. The truth is that the story of Born This Way Foundation did not begin with us and will not end with us either; it is the story of a movement of people that believe in themselves and each other. We believe in the value of humanity; in our voices, in our beauty, in our pain, and in our collective healing. We believe in kindness, we believe in community and we believe in you.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to the voices, hearts and faces that, like my daughter and I, call Born This Way Foundation home and invite them to reflect on what this meaningful milestone means to them.
Shanice S. Jackson
Be Kind. Every day I think about what these words mean for my life and the people around me. For me, it's about remembering to be kind to myself when things get tough, and doing acts of kindness for the people in my life. The last two years have been rough with the COVID-19 pandemic, but what it has taught me is that being intentional about being kind to everyone around me is important now more than ever.
People in our global community have had to deal with death, food scarcity, homelessness, job losses and more. Closer to home, my husband had to deal with the death of his grandfather and two cousins, amidst job losses and new opportunities. Throughout all of this we found joy in each other, our families, and our work. Whether it is buying toys for the kids in our family, giving lengthy career advice for aspiring college students, or making sure that the people in my community have food to eat, small acts of kindness go a long way in someone's life.
My favorite memory with Born This Way Foundation is meeting the team in person for the first time. It is a lot to think that I could be so nervous to meet people in person I talked to every day! I love the literal magic that happens when we are all together, and I honestly feel like we can conquer anything as a team. The impact that my colleagues make in the world warms my heart every day. The fact that I am a small part of encouraging a small team of individuals to make a huge difference in the lives of many is enriching and gives me purpose. It also gives me hope, because I know that there are still good people out there trying to make a difference in the world. So with that I challenge everyone to Be Kind to everyone in your life and the strangers you meet, because you never know who is going through a rough time and how your kind gesture made a difference in their life that day.
10 is quite the number. 10 represents the amount of protons in the element neon, the number of fingers it takes for me to tweet from my laptop and the number that the NASA Launch Commentator counts down from before a rocket launches into space. Coincidentally, 10 also represents the amount of years that Born This Way Foundation has been changing lives, including mine.
My journey with Born This Way Foundation began in 2017 with a tweet, calling on youth reporters between the ages of 15-24 to apply for a new project called Channel Kindness: a platform created by Born This Way Foundation which aimed to equip young people with the tools they needed to report on acts of kindness in their communities. Months after applying, I received the life changing email, informing me that I was chosen as one of 50 youth reporters from across the US to help bring this platform to life. This opportunity came at a time when I felt that the world needed it the most. It’s not that good things weren’t happening in the world, it’s just that nobody seemed to be covering, sharing and amplifying these stories as much as the negative ones. This experience not only made me more aware of all the good things that were happening around me, but also gave me the confidence to use my talent, creativity and technical skills to help other people share their stories as well.
Five years later, as a now full-time Born This Way Foundation associate, I can’t help but reflect on all of the lives we have changed, all of the people we have touched and all stories we’ve told— but also, how many stories we have yet to tell. Every tweet, every graphic and story I have ever had a small hand in putting out into the kinder and braver world we’re building has reminded me that we are not as alone as we sometimes feel. It has been an honor using all 10 of my fingers to #ChannelKindness with you. Happy 10-year anniversary, Born This Way Foundation. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together in the next 10 (and beyond!).
As I sit here and reflect upon what Born This Way Foundation means to me, my eyes well with tears of happiness. To our love-filled founders, Lady Gaga and Cynthia Germanotta, my utmost thanks will never be enough. You are visionaries, and your hope for a kinder, braver world has saved and will continue to save lives. You saved mine, and I do not say this lightly. To our Born This Way Foundation community, and to those of you with whom I have not yet connected, thank you. Our world is a brighter place because of each and every one of you. I look forward to learning from you. To my colleagues (more like family, truly), including our Advisory Board, I hold every interaction with you so close to my heart. I thank my lucky stars daily that I have the privilege of working with you. Your creativity, positivity, vulnerability and nourishing friendship keep me going. I cannot wait for these next 10 years and beyond.
It is impossible for me to choose a favorite memory thus far with Born This Way Foundation. From countless emotional and uplifting meetings, to heartwarming (and heartbreaking) correspondence, coupled with incredible conversations with amazing folks globally, my hopes for the future are wrapped in love. Our work at Born This Way Foundation centers around validating and elevating the stories and experiences of young people (and people young at heart). Our team will continue to advocate tirelessly for kindness and access to mental health resources around the world.
I look forward to continuing to focus on innovative kindness research and programs centered around de-stigmatizing mental health. If I may, I’d like to point us to these famous words: If not now, then when? If not me, then who? Let’s take action and be kind, together. With continued uncertainty and injustices around the world, let’s work together to make the world a kinder, braver place.
Young people are changing the world. That statement has always been and will continue to be true. We tend to forget, when looking at the archival images of protests sparking necessary cultural and policy shifts, that many of the people fighting for voter enfranchisement, integrating schools, demanding equity in resource and opportunity and more, were young. Youth-led movements required better of a country that often met them with violent opposition, and they created meaningful, lasting, life-saving impact; they still do.
In my role at Born This Way Foundation, I have the honor of supporting young people as they pledge to care for their mental health through mental health resources like Please Stay; take an informed, kind approach to helping others and their own mental health through online courses like the Be There Certificate; build kind spaces that assert affirmation and respect for all through initiatives like #BeKind21; and generate hope, empathy and action through storytelling platforms like Channel Kindness. Even at its founding, when Born This Way Foundation’s executive director Maya Smith asked Lady Gaga and Cynthia Germanotta what they wanted the scope of their organization to be, they asked that Maya consult a representative council of young people. A youth advisory board set the mission for Born This Way Foundation. To this day, through research, programming, a global advisory board and countless global conversations, Born This Way Foundation is led by young people’s experiences, informed by their input and inspired by their drive.
10 years of Born This Way Foundation means 10 years of working with and befriending young people like Ash López, a socially conscious tech professional, mental health advocate and CHANNEL KINDNESS author whose tech skills have elevated and expanded Foundation campaigns; Elissa Lee, a researcher and CHANNEL KINDNESS author whose data skills help shape the Foundation’s work; Hannah and Charlie Lucas, who invented the notOK App to make sure everyone has a trusted someone to turn to in a mental health crisis — in doing this, they have also opened up needed conversations about Black youth mental health; Taylor Richardson, a future astronaut making sure people like her feel welcomed and supported in the STEM field; and Tássia Cris who harnesses her own talent and the talent of the Monster Artists community to share beautiful, kind messages online. The next 10 years of Born This Way Foundation holds promise in a number of ways, and the core mission of supporting youth mental health and working with them to build a kinder and braver world, as Cynthia Germanotta always says, is sound. Born This Way Foundation will always be an organization that works with and for young people.
“So, you wanna come work for us?” Maya, the executive director of Born This Way Foundation asked me directly, as I was placing a skillet full of piping hot meatballs in front of her one night at Joanne Trattoria. I had worked at the Germanotta family restaurant in New York City for five years between acting gigs, but this night was different... “Y-yes,” I stammered, wiping my sweaty palms on my apron. In the months leading up to this question, I’d been debating whether or not to sidestep my theatrical career and explore other passions. The time had come to make that huge life decision, right there in the middle of my Tuesday night shift. I imagined myself there at the table, doing the work I needed when I was younger. The next day I had a formal, final interview and three years later, I’m reflecting on this memory from our New York City office, planning celebrations for the Foundation’s 10-year anniversary and helping to launch one of our biggest, most important resources — the Be There Certificate.
To understand why I needed Born This Way Foundation (and specifically, the Be There Certificate) when I was younger, we’ll need to press rewind once more. The year: 2007. The hottest new tool on social media was the Honesty Box. The gist: You could send an anonymous message to anyone on your friends list. It was around the same time that I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I knew I was gay, but given my religious upbringing, I was deeply conflicted and not ready to come out to anyone yet. One day, I received a message in my Honesty Box: “sometimes I wander if u r gay." I immediately bristled back, “I’m not, and it’s spelled wonder,” and hoped my penchant for grammar would send this bully back to the depths of the web. Later on, I found out this message wasn’t the usual bullying at all — it was actually from one of my best friends. Turns out, they had also been struggling with their sexuality, they could sense I was in pain too, and they wanted to help. They just didn’t know how to approach the conversation. A couple years later when I was forced out of the closet and sent to conversion therapy, my close-knit group of friends, including the one from the Honesty Box, stuck by me and reminded me constantly that I was loved and exactly who was meant to be. They kept me alive.
Looking back, we often muddled through clunky, difficult conversations and struggled to find the best way to show up for each other — hiding behind anonymity, saying the wrong things. While that is absolutely okay and the most important thing is just being there, the Be There Certificate can help young people navigate these moments. Our co-founder Lady Gaga’s Born This Way — the message fueling Born This Way Foundation — helped me and my friends say "gay" and celebrate ourselves over and over for over 10 years, and I know high school Josh would be so proud of me for helping other young people around the world do the same. I think back to that fateful night at the restaurant and am filled with gratitude, joy and a continued appetite to change the world (and for meatballs!). For the youth and their friends who are still wandering and wondering together, I’m here to remind you that you were "Born This Way," and I am here for you. The entire team at Born This Way Foundation and I are committed to reminding you of that every single day, for decades to come.
Maya Enista Smith
I have spent the past 10 years of my life waking up to the same to-do list atop my list every day. My work in the world, my purpose in the world, is to make others feel seen, valued and loved. When I began doing this work, I was a newly married 28-year-old living in Washington, DC, almost nine months pregnant with my first child and contemplating a move across the country to California. As we celebrate 10 years, I’ve reached an age where I no longer advertise it (but you can do the math), I live in the sun year-round and I have two beautiful children and a tattoo that reads Be Kind. I have spent more than a quarter of my life building the Born This Way Foundation and watching its impact on the world. I couldn’t pick a favorite memory, moment or accomplishment — so here’s a handful, as concisely delivered as possible because truly, I’m going to need to write a book one day.
On stage in Las Vegas, with 16 incredible young people for "Million Reasons." Alex (and a little bit, me) launched a groundbreaking youth mental health training entitled teen Mental Health First Aid with our partners at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. In eight schools, we piloted this life-saving curriculum for tenth through twelfth graders that were learning to support a loved one in crisis; leaning into the tough questions, accessing a trusted adult when needed, and providing resources to support their own mental health and that of their loved ones. We convened participants from each of these eight schools in Las Vegas and eagerly, Lady Gaga took time to sit down with them before her show in the lobby of the Park Theater. They didn’t know she was coming and so as they watched the doors that she walked through, I watched their faces. I always watch the faces of the people that watch LG because it’s a really incredible thing to witness someone feel seen and loved. As she walked toward them, some of the young people began to cry and she hugged and held each of them, aware of the work that had brought them there. She didn’t just sit with them, she invited them to sit with her — on stage in front of a sold-out crowd — as she sang "Million Reasons" to them (and a little bit, to me).
My friendship with Lady Gaga. Ten years and many, many, many meetings, moments, travels, memories and adventures with her later, I am never not in awe of her. I forget who she is to so many, especially when I text her funny gifs or as my children play with her dogs. She is many things to me, including a dear friend, boss and confidant; she is also the north star for our work at Born This Way Foundation. I will be forever grateful to have been invited into her mission, to share in her purpose for the world, and to work together to build a kinder, braver world.
Happy tenth birthday to Born This Way Foundation! This organization is for you. Our programs. Our platforms. Our people. We are here to support you, to give you hope, and to help you be better equipped to support your mental health and, in doing so, build a kinder, braver world — together. You’re reading this as we close our first decade of work, and I can’t wait to meet you and all the new faces that join us for the next decade, and so on. We’ve got a long road to go in front of us, and we’ll be here for you every step of the way. On this birthday, and every single one ahead (and all the days in between), you are invited to be the ones celebrated.
As the Channel Kindness editor and program manager, I have the great honor and privilege of reading the incredible stories young people submit to ChannelKindness.org, Born This Way Foundation’s youth storytelling platform. The stories are filled with resilience and bravery, vulnerability and love. They are filled with hope.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, I began to lose a bit of my own hope. I lost a bit of it again in 2021 when attacks against the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities intensified. And I lost a bit of it again this year when the war in Ukraine began. Yet, I am continuously uplifted by the stories on Channel Kindness because of what they offer: hope.
This hope is what I hold on to when the world goes through tough times. I hold on to the fact that there is a generation after mine that is unapologetically bold, deeply empathetic and eager to change the world.
So as Born This Way Foundation celebrates its 10-year anniversary, we also celebrate the young people the foundation serves. We celebrate the fearless change-makers, telling the world they have something to say, and may the universe help anyone who tries to stop them because they’re going to say it no matter what. We celebrate 10 years of young people being kind, being brave and providing hope for a tomorrow that is better than we could have ever possibly imagined.
10 years ago, I received an email announcing that there was an organization looking for young people to help share their insights and support the creation of an organization dedicated to supporting young people and building a kinder, braver world.
At 19, I was invited to join Born This Way Foundation's inaugural youth advisory board. This meant that I would join over 20 other young people from around the US to support the planning and execution of programs, campaigns and projects core to the Foundation’s mission: making kindness cool, validating the emotions of young people everywhere and eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health. Since then, I've worked with other young people and youth advocates to mold our programs, amplify our stories and invite the world to join us in this mission.
Now, as the Foundation's communications and creative manager, I have the privilege of working alongside and supporting young people like Danielle B. (she/her/hers), an indigenous (Ojibwe) and queer diversity champion, robotics inventor and advocate for underserved youth; Isabella H. (she/her/hers) who launched a national poetry competition at the age of 14 on why Black Lives Matter; Keely C. (she/her/hers) an entrepreneur and disability activist dedicated to making social, systematic and economic change, and so many others who work to build communities held together by the pillars of love, acceptance, bravery and kindness.
As I look ahead at the next ten years, I am more hopeful because of the power and passion I've witnessed. I put my faith in young people and their vision for a kinder, braver world.
Photos courtesy of Born This Way Foundation
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