Guest Blog by Katie Danis
Katie is a long-time WISER volunteer and recent high school graduate from the NC School of Science and Math in Durham, NC. In her guest blog, Katie shares the story behind her passion for educating girls.
I met J two years ago.
She left her Nigerian village to study in the United States and after singlehandedly navigating three airports, three continents, and a human trafficking visa fraud scheme, she entered my high school as a freshman.
We had spent months exchanging life stories and genre-specific music opinions via email, so when J finally arrived in America, we instantly bonded over a shared taste for Adele and a shared distaste for algebra.
Over the next seven months, we summitted Crowders Mountain (and then promptly summitted multiple scoops of Cherry Garcia), ran on the school track team, constructed my first Nigerian pop Spotify playlist, and met every weekday when I tutored her in math.
At only 16 years old, J was a star. She had the intensity of Daniel Day Lewis, the smile of Lupita Nyong’o, and the voice of Whitney Houston. She had experienced so much, but in the formal education space, she had experienced the equivalent of a sixth-grade education. During one of our math homework sessions, I tentatively asked why she had suffered the three-year lapse in her schooling. Without looking up, she flatly answered, “the men outside my house,” and moved on to the next problem.
If someone were to ask me when and why I decided to dedicate my life to increasing access to opportunities for women, I would tell them about this moment. I would recall the day my best friend told me she couldn’t walk to school because of “the men outside her house” who might grab her, assault her, or sell her away.
Although J and I moved in together in May 2016, we were parted when my family moved away and I moved into my residence hall at the NC School of Science and Math. But J’s inspiration followed me closely and I founded the NCSSM Fair Trade Initiative (FTI) in her honor. Our student organization encourages development in areas where educational and economic opportunities for women are scarce.
Then, only a few months later, I found WISER. Two FTI members and I were fortunate enough to attend the LeadWISER conference at Duke University. Student leaders from around the state had converged for a summit on feminism and education led by the WISER team. In WISER, I saw the opportunities that J and girls in her home area of Nigeria deserved. I saw a chance to develop my advocacy and grow as a volunteer.
Over the next two years, FTI raised thousands of dollars for women’s education through community-based outreach. We ran 5Ks and marathons, created a music video about the importance of educating women (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qu5lmR_4L9Y), championed WISER during the 2017 and 2018 Girl Fund Campaigns, established connections with local organizations, and started the annual FTI-WISER bake sale (an enormous hit in the boarding school climate).
Soon, I’ll be donating my graduation in honor of WISER. When my friends and family join me to celebrate my achievements, I’ll remind them that other girls all over the world deserve to have these moments as well. In a way, it feels like the fitting final step to my journey that was started by J two years ago.
I still stay in touch with J, though I miss being with her in-person. Her unwavering spirit continues to inspire me. In the midst of a global humanitarian crisis, a world in flux, an era of discord and isolation, educating and empowering girls feels like the key to a brighter future. WISER embodies that hope by helping a girl raise her torch and lead the way. It’s not a cure-all for the world’s problems, but it’s a good place to start. And I think it would make J proud.