As one of six siblings — five sisters and one brother — raised by a single mother, Chelsea Miller ’18 learned to value female kinship and empowerment from an early age. Now, as founder and CEO of WEBelieve (Women Everywhere Believe), she works to provide that kind of support for pre-teen and early teen girls of color from underserved communities in New York City.
Miller runs WEBelieve with five other young women, including Oten Iban ’18, Akua Obeng-Akrofi ’18 and Shalon Conley BC’18. In January, the group launched its first initiative, Dare to Dream, an eight-week program at Democracy Prep Harlem Middle School designed to help participants forge bonds with one another and build confidence — about 15 girls met two or three times a week to engage in activities that ranged from discussions about historical figures of color and social justice issues to making their own natural hair care products. “Knowing that they can rely on one another even when we’re not there, creating a safe space for them — that was really important,” says Miller, a Kluge Scholar.
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Major: Political Science
Clubs: Columbia NAACP (VP), Columbia Political Science Students Association, Multicultural Recruitment Committee
Kudos: New York Public Advocate Award for Outstanding Academic Achievement, Jackie Robinson Scholar
WEBelieve is now focused on expanding its reach by launching chapters in other U.S. cities, with an eye on hosting a conference in New York City next spring. Thus far, most of the organization’s funding has come from a grant that Miller secured from the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative, a partnership between ANN INC. (the parent company of clothing retailers Ann Taylor and LOFT) and the Vital Voices Global Partnership, an NGO that fosters female leadership.
A first-generation American, Miller draws much of her inspiration from her Jamaican-born mother, Hazel Ferguson, a social worker turned clinical psychologist who runs a foster care group home for girls in her two-family house in Brooklyn. “I’ve seen her love of service — selfless service,” says Miller. “She’s always been my role model.”
As an ANNpower Fellow during her senior year of high school, Miller attended a two-day forum in Myanmar hosted by the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society, an experience that kindled her interest in international politics. And as a 2015 Presidential Global Fellow — a program for first-years that covers the fees and expenses associated with a Columbia global program — Miller participated in the Istanbul/Tunis Summer Program in Democracy and Constitutional Engineer- ing, through which she learned about the challenges of democratic transitions. This past summer, she completed The Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Summer Enrichment Program, a six-week program organized by Howard University that introduces undergraduates to current issues and trends in international affairs. Miller aspires to be a U.S. diplomat and has thought about running for public office, all while turning WEBelieve into a global organization. “I want to be a champion for women’s rights internationally,” she says. “Change making — that’s what I see myself doing.”
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