Amanda Matos is out to change the world, one Bronx high school at a time.
The 23-year-old Kingsbridge resident is one of five young people to receive a $25,000 award this year from Peace First, a national non-profit that promotes youth leaders and peace activists.
Ms. Matos’ Peace First Award will go toward the WomanHOOD Project, an organization she launched to promote social and political activism among high school girls in the Bronx.
Growing up, one of her role models was Jennifer Lopez.
“I’m not a singer or dancer at all,” said Ms. Matos. “But she was the only person of color [I knew] who was a public figure.”
As a student at Preston High School, meanwhile, she was frustrated that class reading lists did not include more books by women, particularly women of color.
Ms. Matos launched the WomanHOOD Project in part to fill that gap. She said two life-changing events gave her the final impetus for the undertaking.
In 2009, she was accepted to Columbia University, her dream school. Ms. Matos also took inspiration from Sonia Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court.
“That was a big year for me, seeing that a woman from the Bronx was now a Supreme Court Justice,” Ms. Matos said of the leader of Puerto Rican descent who grew up in the Soundview housing projects.
Now, nine staff members — all Columbia or Barnard College students under age 24 who identify themselves as women of color — work as mentors in the WomanHOOD Project. Each week, they visit the International Leadership Charter High School on Exterior Street, near the Marble Hill Houses, where they hold workshops for 11th-grade girls.
Safe space to talk
Topics of discussion include racism, sexism and self-love — a term Ms. Matos prefers over self-esteem, calling that idea cliché. Her goal is to provide a safe and respectful space for girls to talk about important issues.