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Young women find inspiration at Girls Build LA summit

LOS ANGELES — Despite failing to win the presidential election last year, Hillary Clinton is still an inspiration for many young women.

A group of 10,000 girls from across Los Angeles County patiently waited to see Clinton at the annual Girls Build LA leadership summit in downtown Los Angeles Dec. 15.

Girls Build LA is a program of the nonprofit L.A. Promise Fund, which aims to stimulate students to use their skills learned in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to solve problems and impact social change.

As a DJ hyped the crowd up, Clinton took the stage with comedian Jessica Williams. In an interview style format, the former secretary of state spoke about her experiences as a young girl and encouraged the young women in the audience to pursue their goals.

“I really want you to feel part of a community, and it’s a community of girls building L.A,” Clinton said. “It’s a community that’s bigger even than your own school or your own group. I really have been focused on giving young people — both boys and girls, but I’ve really been centrally focused on girls — the chance to live up to your God-given potential. So that means good health care, good education, a safe environment.”

Clinton spoke about one of her inspirations — her mother.

“Everyone has challenges in life and what my mother taught me — after all of the difficulties in her life — is that everybody gets knocked down, what matters is whether you get back up and keep going.”

Comedian Jessica Williams interviews Hillary Clinton Dec. 15 at the Girls Build LA Summit at the Los Angeles Convention Center. An estimated 10,000 young women attended the event, which was sponsored by the L.A. Promise Fund. (Courtesy photo)

Coincidentally, that’s how some of the girls view Clinton.

“A woman should have equal rights and everyone should be equal. I feel that the fact that she can get up on that stage, despite her loss, that takes a really strong character,” said Torraynce Williams, a sophomore at Compton Early College High School.

Williams’ Girls Build team, called the “Change Agents,” was one of three teams that were chosen out of hundreds to talk about their project at the summit. They are forming a youth advocacy group to work with Compton Mayor Aja Brown and gain representation on the school board.

“I’ve lived in Compton most of my life. I’ve seen residents say they want to improve certain things, but they don’t know where to start,” said Nelly Carrillo, an 11th grader at Compton Early College High School. She has been part of Girls Build LA for three years.

“I’ve become a lot more confident, because of Girls Build LA. I’m not afraid of taking leadership roles,” Carrillo added. “I was really shy in middle school and now I’m speaking in front of thousands of people.”

She was chosen to be the spokesperson for the team at the summit. Before Clinton came out, the event took off by introducing the three teams.

The other teams included Palmdale Learning Plaza. The middle-schoolers built a 30-foot planetarium out of cardboard. More than 1,000 people visited it.

The team from San Fernando High School created a solar-powered tent that can fit into a backpack. They got the inspiration from the increase in homelessness in their neighborhood.

Many of the girls from that project have since graduated and gone to college. Maggie Mejia now attends Life Pacific College majoring in communications and Daniela Orozco went on to Stanford University to study engineering.

“[Girls Build] reinforced that I wanted to study engineering,” Orozco said.

“We are Hispanic women, but we don’t just represent one location, we are not only Salvadorian or Mexican, we represent the whole Latin American community. I want to address those problems that we aren’t addressing, that’s why I chose communications,” Mejia added.

Clinton stressed the importance of education. She admitted that she didn’t do well in math and sciences, but she still took those classes.

“Learning something about areas that you’re not that good in or you don’t even like that much gives you some additional basis for understanding what goes on in the world,” she said.

Later in the day, California’s U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris arrived to share some guidance to the sea of young women.

“Seek out mentors, because along the way, none of us, and myself included, has achieved success without people who invested in us and made us believe we could do anything and helped us along the way. It’s a sign of strength to seek out role models and mentors.”

Harris, like Clinton, praised her mother for being a huge role model in her life.

“When I look at you, I look at women like my mother who will break and are breaking barriers, and standing 10 feet tall in your role of leadership and with the confidence that you have every day knowing you will succeed.”

The summit ended with a closing video message from former first lady Michelle Obama. Other speakers included county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Beautycon CEO Moj Mahdara and Latina Magazine founder Christy Haubegger.