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our staff

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Anika Manzoor

Anika Manzoor (she/they) serves as Youth Activism Project’s first-ever Executive Director. Anika was introduced to activism when she “accidentally” co-founded School Girls Unite at the age of 12. Through Youth Activism Project, Anika discovered the power of her own voice and consequently, her own passion for youth empowerment. Anika is a graduate of Grinnell College and Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Through Youth Activism Project, Anika is committed to helping as many young people as possible discover the power of their voices as well. Click here to learn more about her journey.

Lulit Shewan

Lulit Shewan (she/her) serves as our Community Relations Manager and Activation Hub Team Lead. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Maryland. Lulit started working with the Youth Activism Project in 2015 when she co-founded a group called Youth Uplifting Health to promote health and wellness in teens within her school and county. She was also a co-county coordinator for the Minority Scholars Program and worked on campaigns related to equal and clean water access within schools and mental health awareness initiatives. Her goal is to promote civic engagement and youth empowerment in BIPOC.

Avery Smedley

Avery Smedley (she/her) serves as our Director of Youth Organizing.  As a junior in Montgomery County, Maryland, Avery became a passionate activist. Based on the lessons from her experiencing co-founding and leading Students Toward Equitable Public Schools, a county-wide initiative furthering education equity and combating de facto segregation, Avery now leads our inaugural Movement Builder Fellowship for teens with exceptional activist potential. Avery has led in-person and online events reaching up to 800 people. She is also proud to call herself a Youth Creating Change fellow.

Obse Abebe

Obse Abebe (she/her) serves as an Activation Hub Team Manager and is an organizer whose advocacy began when she orchestrated a school walkout to advocate for stricter gun control. Since then, Obse has lobbied, testified, and led events with over 100 people. She serves as the Vice President for her Girl Up club that combats gender inequity and mentors other youth activists as a grassroots organizer for Youth Creating Change. She also represents her fellow students in local legislative bodies through her position in her county-wide SGA. Her faith in the power of the people drives Obse to use her voice and be the change she wishes to see.

Carolanne Briscoe

Carolanne Briscoe (she/her) is currently a graduate student in the Community Psychology Program at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and works as our Partnership and Outreach Director for the Spring 2021 academic year. Carolanne co-founded an organization called Black Folk Take Note (BFTN) that promotes Black education and mental wellness in youth and adults in the Black community. She also founded SoÜl Food, a program within BFTN that provides perishable items to Black families battling with food insecurities. Her goal is to promote healthy racial identity and civic engagement in Black youth and adults.

Lauren Payne

Lauren Payne (she/her) serves as an Activation Hub Team Lead, and is a senior at Richard Montgomery. She is a part of school groups such as BSU and MSP. She is also a part of Montgomery County groups, such as Montgomery County Students for Change and Young People for Progress. She began organizing over the summer and is super excited to get started with YAP, helping other student activist.

Paris Ye

Paris Ye (she/her) serves as our Youth Partnerships Manager and Activation Hub Team Lead. She is a high school student in Montgomery County, Maryland. She began working with YAP on a voter registration drive, where she led a dozen volunteers to contact more than 250 students in her school to register. This inspired her to increase her civic engagement. She focuses her advocacy on racial injustice, feminism, and the education opportunity gaps in her local community. She works to make her local Student Member of the Board position, which represents more than 150,000 students, accessible to all. She’s dedicated to empowering young activists and combating inequity.

our board

Hilary Binder-Aviles (she/her)|Independent Nonprofit Consultant
Jonathan Johnson (he/him)| Glover Park Group
Brian Callahan (he/him)| Congressional Relations Manager
Vanessa Gomes Garcia (she/her)| University of Maryland: Class of 2023
Chris Herrera (he/him)| American University: Class of 2023
Aria Miles (she/her)| UPD Consulting


our Former Staff


Wendy Schaetzel Lesko (she/her) founded Youth Activism Project in 2004 with the launch of its first campaign, School Girls Unite. She served as President until 2020, and is a nationally recognized expert on authentic youth civic engagement. She has written several books, including Youth! The 26% Solution. Her work as a community organizer with Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers and a reporter covering the U.S. Congress strengthen her determination to encourage youth-driven policy advocacy as well as multigenerational collaboration. Check out Wendy’s TEDxYouth Talk.

Anna Denisenko

Anna Denisenko (she/her) served as our Program Director for 2019 & 2020. She first became passionate about activism when she joined the Occupy Orlando movement. After earning her master’s degree from the University of Central Florida, she received a Fulbright grant to Malaysia, where she spent 2 years teaching high school students and organizing weekend events focusing on environmental education and women’s empowerment. After witnessing the positive impact these events had on her students, she hopes to continue engaging young people in leadership and activism.