When Sophia Hanson co-founded the Pennsylvania-based National Youth Foundation, which hosts the only national book contest for kids writing and illustrating books, she could have never imagined that the book written by last year’s Amazing Women’s Edition Contest winner, seventh-grader Gabby Jones Fields, would go on to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.
Sophia Hanson (back row, center right) and the young authors of the National Youth Foundation
But as it turns out, getting the attention of the Smithsonian was just the beginning for Hanson’s young authors.
“They’re getting a statue,” says Hanson excitedly, about the four Cincinnati, OH, girls who won this year’s Amazing Women’s Edition Contest, a competition which encourages students to share stories of heroines in their community. “It’ll be one of the few statues of females in the state,” she says.
The four girls—Serenity Mills, Janyia New, Aliyana O’Neal, and Nakiyah Ray—have well-earned this recognition. Their winning book, “Marian Spencer: A Light in the Darkness,” highlights the life and contributions of Spencer, an Ohio-based civil rights pioneer. An NAACP member at the age of 13, Spencer successfully integrated Coney Island and its swimming pool in the 1950s and went on to become the first black woman elected to Cincinnati’s town council in 1983. The statue, which will be completed later this year, will feature Spencer, who recently passed away at the age of 99, and a compilation figure of the four girls who so lovingly chronicled her life.
When Hanson and her co-founders, Jamee Joppy and Carolyn Crawford, created the National Youth Foundation, their only wish was to promote inclusion and gender equality with enriching creative educational programming. The programs, all of which nurture young students’ literacy and team-building skills and include the Amazing Women’s Edition Contest, the Student Book Scholars Contest, and a Youth Writing Workshop initiative, were designed to stimulate students’ academic and artistic inclinations.
“This project is for the children,” says Hanson, who has two young daughters. In addition to providing prize money for the winning authors, the Foundation also publishes their books for them and then donates the books to public libraries. “Our goal is to get the books in the hands of other children.”
In order to cover the prize money and publication costs for the Amazing Women’s Edition Contest, Hanson applied for a grant from The Pollination Project in 2017 and was awarded a grant that same year and an Impact Grant the year after.
“I woke up in March of 2017 and decided that I wanted to be part of the movement to bring about change…I believe that a just world comes with respect and education about different cultures, ethnicities, and genders.”
The idea for the Amazing Women’s Edition Contest came to Hanson when she took her daughters to Harvard University’s bookstore the previous year. She had told the girls to find two biographies of women that they had not already read, and after scouring the store, the girls only found two—one a biography of Harriet Tubman, the other one of Queen Victoria.
“I had talked for years about the lack of gender equality and racial equality in children’s books,” says Hanson. “But that was a shock.”
Hanson credits TPP with helping make her dream of hosting the Amazing Women’s Edition Content come true. The contest was a huge success, garnering more than 250 submissions representing more than 30 states.
This recent recognition from the Smithsonian and the city of Cincinnati, however, has surpassed even Hanson’s wildest dreams.
“I just could never have imagined it,” Hanson says. “Our goal was to ensure that a large group of citizens had free access to biographies of women…But this is just incredible.”