Ahima Tetteh lives with her disabled mother and siblings and helps to provide for the household by selling water in the markets in town. Athletic with a creative spirit, Ahima loves track and field and arts and crafts. The 13-year-old hopes that one day she will be able to attend school so she can provide a better way of life for her family.
Born in Paris, Émilie Afatsawo has Togolese and French heritage. Her striking red hair (inherited from her great-grandfather) attracts attention wherever she goes with her family, whether in France or around the world.
Although a successful model, Émilie, 13, is a typical teenager who is “keen on Harry Potter” and loves sport. She also enjoys modelling and being in front of the camera for photoshoots, because it helps build her confidence.
Zulaikha, South Africa
Three years ago, Zulaikha Patel was among a group of students who led a protest against Pretoria High School’s hair policy, which didn’t sanction afros. As the teenagers were threatened with arrest, images went viral, and people worldwide began sharing pictures of their own afros on social media in solidarity. Now 16, Zulaikha aspires to be the first female president of the Republic of South Africa. “I’m most proud of my Blackness, it’s my identity,” she says. “No-one can take away my passion and desire for liberating Africa.”
Trinity Georgia, USA
Trinity Simone, 16, has a burning desire to make a positive impact on the world. She launched The Youth Will Be All Write initiative, which donates journals to young people in juvenile detention centres to give them an outlet to positively express themselves. “The power of pen and paper can heal, bring peace and allow for change,” she says.
As the daughter of diplomats, Havana Chapman, eight, has lived in six different countries. She loves learning about the planets and has attended Space Camp USA. “When I read about Dr Mae Jamison, I learnt she was the first African-American astronaut, but she also loves to dance and speaks a lot of languages, like me. I think being an astronaut would be a perfect job for me.”
Amari, California, USA
Amari McCoy was born in Ethiopia. When she was two weeks old, she weighed just two kilograms and struggled with breathing issues and low white-blood cell counts. After months of treatments, she finally recovered. Now six, Amari is full of life and determined to do her part to make the world a better place. She can often be found in the school playground playing with the special-needs children or picking up litter in her neighbourhood. “Be a leader, not a follower,” she says of her quest to inspire other young people. “Be kind, work hard and don’t let anyone dull your sparkle.”
Ava, Mississippi, USA
At three months old, doctors reported Ava Clarke – a naturally blonde, fair-skinned African American – as legally blind because her eyes did not respond to light or darkness. Now 11, Ava has never set limits on her abilities, and her charm and arresting looks have won her many fans, including Beyoncé, who invited Ava to appear in her film Lemonade and join her on the MTV Video Music Awards red carpet. “I am proud to be an inspiration to anyone who looks different or might have a hard time accepting things about themselves,” she says.
Maya, nine, lives in Kenya, where age-old British colonial policies prevent students with dreadlocks from attending public schools. Regardless, Maya proudly wears her hair in dreadlocks, and wants other African girls her age to appreciate their distinct looks. “Everybody is unique and who we are is not determined by our hair, but by how much love we can share with others,” she says.
Leigh Wami Tucker was born in South Africa, but her family moved to England when she was two. One day she told her mother the children didn’t want to play with her because of her “woolly” hair. Her mother told Wami her hair was her crown and made her unique. She began to embrace it, and now, at 15, loves the way she looks. Her message? “Embrace yourself and love yourself unconditionally, because there is nothing more powerful than being authentically you.”
Sanaa, New York, USA
By the age of eight, Sanaa Bygrave had taken up sewing, sketching and designing. She dreams of becoming a fashion designer and hopes to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, but she knows she has to work hard to succeed in life. Sanaa believes that just being herself makes her special, as does the ability to make her own decisions. She wants all young Black girls to be able to embrace this important and empowering concept.
This article originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of marie claire.