Springfield Teen Chosen for National Role in Girls Inc. Teen Advocacy Council

Sometimes, you’re just born an activist. Sometimes your activism changes the world. And sometimes—wonderfully—your activism gets recognized and given a higher platform

So it has gone for Maya Senquiz, who is 15 and lives in Springfield, Mass. In October, Senquiz was chosen to become a member of the highly selective Teen Advocacy Council of the national Girls Inc. organization, in which activist teens will focus on educating around issues of sexual harassment and violence. For the last three years, Senquiz has been a proud participant in the local Girls Inc. affiliate, Girls Inc. of the Valley, which helps hundreds of girls in western Massachusetts to become strong, smart and bold.

She is now one of 12 new members of the council, the others hailing from around the country, including Alabama, Tennessee, California and Texas. The council will meet monthly, by video conference call, to draw up and implement their strategy. They plan on holding a virtual town meeting, and will also travel together to Washington, D.C. to convene with legislators on Capitol Hill. The girls on last year’s council were thrilled to speak with Senator Tammy Baldwin (WI) and the champion of the Gender Equity in Education Act, Senator Patty Murray (WA).

Says Senquiz: “We hope to change the stigma of sexual harassment and violence, and make it okay for girls to get the help they need. That is my main goal.”

Senquiz has long embraced the work of bringing about change. She was just 10 years old, in fact, when her mother took her to her first protest. It was held at Springfield City Hall: Kourtney Senquiz, a longtime activist and now a visiting assistant professor at Clark University, who teaches African American studies, was there to rally against the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.

“I liked the empowerment,’ Maya recalls of that day. “You could feel the energy. And I knew I wanted to do something like that when I got older.”

She has indeed. Issues of food justice continue to drive Maya, currently a sophomore at Springfield Honors Academy. At age 13, she founded her own organization in the Springfield schools, called Healthy Food Activists. It lobbied the school system to add healthier and more culturally appropriate meals to the menu: because of her group’s efforts, spice stations have been set up for students and Latin and Asian cuisine have been brought into the lunch rotation, with recipes from chefs in the community. “The empanadas taste a bit more flavorful than before,” she says, with a smile.

Over the years, Maya has deepened her commitment to issues of equity, and her participation in various protests has been noted in the press, both print and television. Indeed, apart from her new role on the Teen Advisory Council at Girls Inc. Maya has also served on the Young Women’s Advisory Council, part of the intergenerational organization Girls for Gender Equity.

“At her young age of 15, Maya already has an impressive resume, is a kind friend and sister—and she constantly practices her advocacy,” says Meghan Bone, director of the Girls Inc. Eureka! year-round college and career readiness program for teen girls that focuses on introducing girls to careers in STEM.

Meanwhile, she is a diligent student and hopes to become a neuroscientist. Having watched her great grandmother succumb to Alzheimer’s disease, she hopes to help find a cure —a dream that has been nurtured by her summers in the classrooms and labs at UMass. “I’m in love with the mission of Girls Inc. of the Valley and the Eureka! program,” says Senquiz. “Girls Inc. has made me into a strong independent woman like they said it would.”