Now that she’s returned home from an event she probably won’t soon forget attending, Anja Herrman can let a big cat out of the bag: She spoke at a White House reception where she was honored by the first lady for her work. she continues to do it here at home.
The Oak Park-River Forest High School senior was seen as a changemaker, recognized alongside 14 other young women at a White House reception with First Lady Jill Biden, who said they “all represent the potential of young people across the country.” »
It was the first-ever “Girls Lead Change” event at the White House on Oct. 11 – with the reception held in honor of “International Day of the Girl” – and Herrman, 17, was on hand. ‘platform. She is described as a disability rights activist and advocate for equity and inclusion.
Before the reception, the River Forest teen had to keep things a secret. But not anymore. Herrman and the other girls were selected by the White House Gender Policy Council for their work in “leading change and shaping a better future in their communities across the United States,” according to a press release from the White House announcing the reception and the honorees.
“These young women protect and preserve the earth, write and share stories that change mentalities and transform their pain into purpose. Together, they represent the potential of young people across the country, and I hope others can learn from the power of their innovation, their strength and their hope,” Biden said of the honorees.
Herrman was selected after a world history teacher she had in first grade wrote a letter of support, touting the advocacy work the teenager has done on behalf of people with disabilities – particularly helping some to obtain personal protective equipment during the pandemic. She praises teacher Lisa Faulkner, telling the Pioneer Press that they stayed in touch even after Herrman moved up in grade levels.
“She’s one of my favorite teachers and one of my favorite humans on the planet,” Herrman told the Pioneer Press.
Faulkner praises the work accomplished by his former student.
“Anja is not just a young person who will bring extraordinary changes in the future. She’s making changes now. She is emerging as a national leader through her research, volunteering, speaking engagements and publications, all while maintaining a challenging high school schedule. She shapes the world to be equitable and inclusive for all,” Faulkner told the Pioneer Press.
Faulkner was able to attend the White House reception with Herrman.
“Anja could not be more deserving of this honor. Her work is necessary and inspiring,” said the teacher.
The teen sat in a wheelchair at the reception as she addressed the modest crowd that included White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, other elected officials and more . She began advocating for people with disabilities at a young age, first speaking out after some of her own personal experiences and situations, her mother said. This work in progress places her in the center of the White House and right next to the First Lady.
“She created a really comfortable atmosphere and it was really nice to talk with her,” Herrman said of meeting the first lady. “It was amazing to hear an intelligent, articulate human being give us all that (encouragement) to really go and change the world, and show us that she really believes in us to do it.”
According to a description of his efforts provided by the White House, Herrman “has led advocacy work for people with disabilities at the local level, including as a member of the Personal Protective Equipment for People with Disabilities Coalition (PPE4PWD Coalition), which helped obtain personal protective equipment for people with disabilities. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As of 2021, she is the youngest named member of the Village of River Forest’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group. Anja is emerging as a national leader through her research, speaking engagements and publications. She authored a white paper that highlights the need for school shooting plans that consider the safety of students with disabilities through a grant program from the Disability EmpowHer Network.
Herrman told the Pioneer Press that her work to secure personal protective equipment during the pandemic for people with disabilities came after realizing that the pandemic was not having as negative an impact on herself and her family as it had for d ‘others. Her family has not experienced the financial hardship that some have experienced, and no member of her family has become seriously ill or died from the coronavirus, she said.
“I recognized what a privilege it was, and it wasn’t the reality for many other people with disabilities. And I also knew that people with disabilities were at higher risk of contracting the virus because they didn’t have the supplies they needed,” she said.
She said her involvement in the coalition allowed her to help make a difference.
In a statement to the Pioneer Press, OPRFH District 200 Superintendent Greg Johnson also gave high marks to Herrman’s work outside of the classroom.
“We are incredibly proud of this well-deserved recognition for Anja, and we are even prouder that it is awarded for her work in such a vital area as disability rights. OPRF’s motto is “Those Things Are Best.” Anja lives this ideal by showing how a young person’s individual actions can have a big impact,” he said.