Meet The 2021 Women of Worth Honorees Who Are Changing The World
Year after year we see more women shaking things up and creating change in the world. It’s not only inspiring to watch them remove obstacles for others and build opportunities for those in need, but it’s motivation for the generations of women following behind them to be the change that they want to see. It's also why each year, L’Oréal Paris spotlights extraordinary, influential women who use their time to give back to their communities. This year, Women of Worth, the brand’s signature philanthropic program, has 10 inspirational honorees, each of whom is receiving $20,000 to support their organization, mentorship from the L’Oréal Paris network and a national platform to share their story. Read on to learn about these women and the incredible work they’re doing. Then, you can cast your vote here once per day through November 30, 2021 for one honoree to receive an additional $25,000 for their cause.
Edited by Shalwah Evans, Photos Courtesy of L’Oréal Paris
Who she is: Natalie Wilson – Washington, DC-based co-founder of Black & Missing Foundation, which brings awareness to missing people of color, educates the minority community on personal safety, and provides vital resources to help family and friends of missing persons.
Her story: In 2004, 24-year-old Tamika Huston vanished from her home in Spartanburg, SC. It wasn’t widespread news coverage of the case that caught Natalie and Derrica Wilson’s attention. It was the fact that the case received such little media attention that inspired them to act. The sister-in-law duo decided to put their professional expertise in public relations and law enforcement to work to launch the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI).
With more than 240,000 people of color reported missing every year, thousands of people like Tamika Huston are never given a voice, platform, or visibility to be found. Although media coverage has historically focused on White, female victims, more than 40 percent of all those missing in the U.S. are people of color.* That’s why BAMFI is grounded in a mission to bring awareness to missing people of color, to educate minority communities on personal safety, and to provide important resources to the families and friends of missing persons. BAMFI also utilizes a variety of media platforms to help locate missing persons. The Wilsons’ work is helping to level the playing field so that more cases of missing persons of color can be solved.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: "For close to 14 years, we have been sounding the alarm on the issue of missing persons of color around the country. The [Women of Worth] recognition not only puts a spotlight on our tireless efforts, but highlights this issue on a national level. It allows us to continue to support families desperately searching for their missing loved ones through renewed awareness and financial support."
Who she is: Marian McCord – St. Louis, MO-based co-founder of CHADS Coalition for Mental Health, which saves young lives by advancing awareness and prevention of depression and suicide.
Her story: In high school, Chad McCord was an Eagle Scout, a church youth group retreat leader, and a gifted athlete and student. He was also diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder. His mental health struggles ultimately led him to taking his own life, leaving his parents devastated. Because Chad had wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by shining a light on mental illness, his mother, Marian McCord, vowed to be his voice. In 2004, Marian transitioned her career as a pediatric nurse from saving lives in the hospital, to saving lives in the community. In honor of Chad’s remarkable life and legacy, she founded CHADS Coalition for Mental Health to rescue young lives by advancing awareness and prevention of depression and suicide.
Today, CHADS offers clinical counseling for students struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, one on one social and emotional mentoring and evidence based suicide prevention presentations. In 2019, CHADS presented to nearly 58,000 students — 7,311 of whom felt compelled to ask for help. The non-profit has outreach programs in 183 schools, with core platforms in place to help save lives. Because suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10-24*, it is critical to provide young people with the tools they need to ask for help before it is too late. Under Marian’s guidance, CHADS has grown an average of 20 percent each year, and serves as a reminder of the enduring power of familial love.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree:“I am so honored to be recognized as a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree. It brings me great joy to have adolescent mental health spotlighted in such a positive manner.”
Who she is: Michelle Tran – New York-based co-founder of Soar Over Hate, which combats anti-Asian hate and xenophobia by equipping Asian Americans with personal safety devices, need-based scholarships, and culturally competent therapy.
Her story: As COVID-19 raged throughout the world, Michelle, a medical student in New York City, noticed a second pandemic arising around her — a pandemic of anti-Asian racism and violence. Hate incidents across the country quickly escalated from racial slurs to lethal shovings. Asian elders who reminded Michelle of her grandparents were viciously attacked around her favorite neighborhoods of New York City. On their way to work, Michelle’s medical colleagues were violently targeted and blamed for a virus they were helping treat. As the xenophobia worsened, many of Michelle’s loved ones became fearful of going about their daily lives out of fear of getting attacked. Devastated by this escalation of hate and discrimination, Michelle was motivated to help her community. She worked with her youth mentee to launch Soar Over Hate, an initiative to combat anti-Asian hate and equip vulnerable Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) with self-defense materials, culturally-competent therapy, and other resources.
Soar Over Hate has now distributed more than 23,000 safety alarms, whistles, and pepper spray to Asian Americans in New York and California. They prioritized those most vulnerable, such as low-income folks, essential workers, and the elderly. Soar Over Hate also hosted multiple community events for thousands of attendees, including two popular AAPI Care Fairs in New York City and San Francisco. These events offered free self-defense materials and classes, health care screenings, puppy therapy, meditation, healing circles, and more. Beyond self defense materials, Soar Over Hate seeks to empower the next generation of AAPI leaders with a college scholarship fund and free therapy designed to promote healing from racial trauma. Under Michelle’s leadership, Soar Over Hate continues to uplift Asian Americans and broaden its reach to impact people around the country.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “As a L’Oréal Paris Woman of Worth, I hope to demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate, and that healing can prevail even in the darkest of circumstances.”
Who she is: Ashley Rhodes-Courter, LCSW, St. Petersburg, FL-based founder of the Foundation for Sustainable Families, which educates, supports, and strengthens high-risk and high-conflict families by creating access to mental health, educational, nutritional, and other care opportunities.
Her story: After being born to a single teen mother, Ashley Rhodes-Courter was placed in Florida's foster care system. She spent nearly a decade living in 14 different placements before being adopted from a children's home at the age of twelve. Many of her foster placements were incredibly abusive, with more than 25 percent of caregivers who were, or became convicted felons. Her childhood experiences propelled her toward a career in social work and advocacy. Ashley went on to earn a master's degree in social work from the University of Southern California. By the age of 22, Ashley had become a New York Times best-selling author and has written three books: Three Little Words, Three More Words, and her debut picture book, Sam Is My Sister. Her books are used in classrooms all over the county and in First Year Experience collegiate programs.
In 2013, Ashley, an international child welfare advocate, created the Foundation for Sustainable Families as a way to bridge service gaps in her own community, and connect children and families to quality programs already in existence. Since its inception, The Foundation for Sustainable Families has served hundreds of families and professionals in the Tampa Bay area by providing them with access to educational opportunities, targeted case management, mental health care, food, clothing, school supplies, and academic support. Ashley knows first-hand the importance of having a strong community, family, or support system. By channelling her own trauma as a conduit for change, her work is helping to reverse the cycles of abuse, mental illness, neglect, poverty, and dysfunction that are costly to society and family systems.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: "I am so grateful to be named a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree. I hope my participation in this program inspires others to continue to serve their communities in meaningful ways, and shows survivors of adversity that they can achieve their dreams, despite obstacles they may have faced."
Who she is: Natalie Guo – Boston-based founder of Off Their Plate, which empowers local minority-led kitchens to deliver the restorative power of wholesome meals to those experiencing hardship.
Her story: Natalie Guo’s first job was at an immigrant-owned restaurant where most of the kitchen staff was undocumented. In fact, she was raised by the immigrant community. Through her parents, neighbors, and friends, she saw first-hand how economic fragility and opportunity can be closely interwoven in the immigrant experience. In March 2020, Natalie was sent home from her surgical rotation as her teaching hospital prepared for the pandemic. On her walk home, she passed by restaurant after restaurant closing as she learned of the millions of restaurant workers being laid off around the country. As her hospital mentors and colleagues headed into unrelenting shifts on the frontline, food industry workers, some of the most economically vulnerable individuals in our country, were desperate for a living wage.
The irony struck her and she was inspired to act. Within a week, Natalie launched Off Their Plate, an initiative dedicated to feeding hospital workers on the frontlines of the pandemic while providing a livelihood for restaurant workers. These efforts have evolved into a national movement backing kitchens, restaurants and food trucks led by women of color to tackle hunger right in their community with wholesome, affirming meals. To date, they’ve served over 830,000 meals, raised over $8.5 million, and helped over 170 minority-led food businesses keep staff on payroll and keep their doors open.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “Being among the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth is about honoring the transformative act of service. We have each been changed by our cause. Off Their Plate has taught me the affirming power of taking action, the resiliency of minority-led businesses, and that hunger is about more than calories. Let the work change you for the better.”
Who she is: Pooja Chandrashekar – Potomac Falls,VA-based founder & CEO of ProjectCSGIRLS, which inspires girls to pursue computer science and technology through a national competition, hands-on STEM workshops and mentorship programs.
Her story: At school, Pooja Chandrashekar was discouraged seeing her female classmates opt out of careers in computer science because of the field’s negative stereotypes and lack of female role models. Inspired by her own experiences with the technology gender gap as a high school sophomore, she founded ProjectCSGIRLS to teach girls to harness technology to drive social change. The organization’s flagship program is a national competition that challenges middle school girls to build a technology-based solution to a social problem in their own community. ProjectCSGIRLS also hosts hands-on computer science workshops and mentorship programs that pair girls with technical professionals, operating with 95 active chapters in 12 countries. ProjectCSGIRLS focuses on reaching girls from underrepresented backgrounds, and many chapters are based in inner cities or low-income countries.
Since launching in 2013, ProjectCSGIRLS has reached more than 15,000 girls worldwide, has advocated for computer science education reform as part of President Obama’s CSForAll initiative, and has united students, professionals and organizations in support of gender equity in STEM. Many ProjectCSGIRLS alumnae have gone on to receive patents, launch successful start-ups and publish their work in notable scientific journals. With Pooja at the helm, ProjectCSGIRLS is equipping girls with the confidence and knowledge needed to lead and transform the future of technology. Alongside leading ProjectCSGIRLS, Pooja is an MD/MBA student at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “Being a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth honoree and joining this community of trailblazing women is such an incredible recognition of the near-decade of effort I’ve put into founding and nurturing ProjectCSGIRLS. Most importantly, it is a way for me to inspire the next generation of young women to see themselves in me and my story, pursue STEM, and use their voices to advocate for what matters to them.”
Who she is: Amanda Munz – New York-based founder of The Fashion Foundation, whichaddresses sustainability within the fashion industry bysellingexcess fashion samples, with proceeds supporting local schoolchildren.
Her story: While interning for various fashion brands and designers, Amanda Munz noticed a trend: Brands were consistently discarding unused merchandise samples. All the excess merchandise lying around inspired her to launch The Fashion Foundation, an organization dedicated to sellingexcess designer samples to fund school supplies for New York schools.
Amanda’s vision began in a home basement with a single clothing rack and has grown to reuse more than 150,000 pounds of designer merchandise, benefiting 16,000 local schoolchildren in need. Each year, it provides children with school supplies, art projects, clean clothes, winter essentials, holiday giftsand more. Thanks to proceeds raised, The Fashion Foundation has also helped build an elementary school library in Brooklyn, a school playground in Harlem, and an arts and theatre programfor a high school. As the organization grows, it will take on large-scale, everlasting initiatives that enable children to utilize these resources for years to come.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “It means so much to be a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honoree because it signifies [the company’s] belief in our vision. This recognition gives me a boost of confidence to keep doing what I’m doing, and it’s further affirmation that collectively, we can all make a difference in the world.”
Who she is: Lara MacGregor – Louisville, KY-based founder of Hope Scarves, which supports people facing cancer through scarves and stories.
Her story: Lara MacGregor was 30 years old and seven months pregnant when she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. As she faced the unthinkable, she was encouraged by the kindness of a friend, who gave her a box of beautiful head scarves with an uplifting note. Upon finishing treatment, she repaid the favor by sharing the scarves with another woman battling the illness. The power of this simple gesture led Lara to found Hope Scarves, an organization supporting women facing cancer by exchanging scarves and stories.
Today, Hope Scarves collects scarves and stories from cancer survivors around the world to help spread hope to those undergoing treatment. Since its founding in 2012, the non-profit has grown exponentially and is affectionately known as “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Scarves.” Today, the organization has provided nearly 20,000 scarves to people in every state across the United States, and 27 other countries. These scarves have supported people facing more than 90 types of cancer and ranging in age from six months to 97 years old.
In 2020, after seven years in remission, Lara’s cancer returned and she was diagnosed with terminal stage IV metastatic breast cancer. In response, she has expanded the mission of Hope Scarves to invest in metastatic cancer research, raising more than $1 million for the cause to date . Lara’s tireless work is raising much-needed funds, helping people understand advanced breast cancer, and reminding people everywhere to live each day to the fullest.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “Community, inspiration, hope — these are what I strive to create through Hope Scarves. To be recognized by L’Oréal Paris for my life’s work at this pivotal time in my story brings me deep joy.”
Who she is: Briana Daniel – Orlando, FL-based founder of Street Team Movement, Inc.,which restores hope to individuals impacted by homelessness by providing them with laundry and remedial aid distributed through vending machines.
Her story: At 21 years old, Briana Daniel was jogging around a downtown Orlando lake when she stopped to purchase a drawing from a homeless man there. She asked him about the homeless population at the Lake and was shocked to discover that it was an overwhelming problem.
Briana felt moved to help the homeless population in her home state of Florida, but she knew she had to first educate herself about the harsh realities of their world. To do so, she immersed herself in their experience by living alongside Florida’s homeless population for a month, learning first-hand the unique struggles they faced. In her experience, the homeless crave the dignity that comes from cleanliness. Armed with this perspective, Briana founded Street Team Movement Inc., which provides showers, laundry services and critical hygiene items to the homeless.
Since its inception in 2013, Street Team Movement has washed almost 20,000 loads of laundry, given more than 500 haircuts, assisted in providing nearly 300 showers, and distributed more than one million hygiene items. Thanks to its free Hygiene Vending Machines (introduced in 2020), the Street Team washes 87 loads of laundry weekly, and has provided nearly 5,200 hygiene items to homeless people in need. As founder, Briana’s actions are a reminder that every human life has dignity and worth, and that small actions can go a long way in positively impacting society.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “Being a L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth honoree distinguishes the work of Street Team Movement Inc. and all of those whom we serve, enabling us to be industry disruptors as we use the platform given to us to blaze trails to a brighter tomorrow.”
Who she is: Starr Davis – Miami, FL-based founder of The Starr Institute, Inc., which educates, engages and empowers youth and the community about child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Her story: At just seven years old, Shavontana “Starr” Davis was sexually abused at the hands of male family members, leaving her feeling paralyzed, confused and ashamed. For nearly two decades, she remained silent about her pain. Without the knowledge of programs to support her as a child, it wasn’t until she had a heart to heart with her beloved grandmother, the late Maxine Davis, that she learned the power of choosing joy. That choice led her to her purpose. Her passion to ensure that no child would have to suffer as she did, led to the creation of The Starr Institute, Inc. (TSI), which seeks to educate, engage and empower youth and the community about child sexual abuse and exploitation. TSI offers interactive, culturally relevant, age-appropriate workshops for youth aged 12-17 and the adults who support them.
Since 2017, more than 2,400 youth and adults have participated in TSI’s awareness and prevention programming. Another 600 people across 31 states and 3 countries have raised funds to support TSI’s efforts through an annual 5K run. In December of this year, Starr will add another accomplishment to her roster of achievements with the debut of her first book, The Abuse Algorithm, which shares stories of child sexual abuse survivors, explores how adverse childhood experiences impacted their lives and how this widespread issue is a preventable public health crisis. Driven by the desire to positively shape the lives of others, she is working to build a world where young people avoid — and not just recover from — abuse.
Why she’s proud to be a Women of Worth honoree: “I’m truly humbled to be among the elite class of women who are L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Honorees. This amazing opportunity amplifies The Starr Institute’s efforts and increases our visibility in the fight to help young people avoid, and not simply recover from abuse.”