We Need Universal Access to Education for All Girls

On the heels of International Women's Day, I am struck by the need to link women's empowerment with access to quality education. Each year people around the world raise their voices celebrating women while also demanding change. This year we heard a chorus of voices calling for more women in positions of power, more men championing women's issues and the impact women have on their countries' GDP when they have access to the market. It is important to connect access to quality education for girls with the women they will eventually become.

According to the World Education Blog, the struggle for even the most basic education in rural areas is dire, "Many rural women in poor countries lack even the most basic skills like literacy and numeracy, without which it is difficult to learn more job-specific skills." It's important to acknowledge that without the basic building blocks, many of the powerful female voices we heard this past weekend would be silent. The women leading today are educated and influential. Without access to quality education and support, these role models would not be where they are today.

As the National Youth of the Year and teen ambassador for Boys & Girls Club of America, I represent nearly 4 million youth. As part of my role, I've had the opportunity to travel across the country talking with my peers. What I've learned is that more than 70 percent of teens want leaders to improve education systems and provide more scholarships and financial aid for post-secondary education. But, sadly, only a fraction of teens, especially young women, believe their voices are heard.

Today, according to UNESCO, 66 million girls around the world do not have access to education. That literally means millions of girls will never have the opportunities I have. How many Hillary Clintons, Malala Yousafzais, Misty Copelands, Kerry Washingtons or Condoleezza Rices will never lead because they didn't have the opportunity to go to school? I learned that in many countries girls are more likely to die in childbirth than to make it to the eighth grade. School plays a leading role in keeping girls safe and focused on their future.

Here in the U.S., nearly one in four teenage girls drops out of school every year. One of my mentors, CEO Rick Goings of Tupperware Brands, says there is no 'I' in 'We.' None of us get to where we are going on our own. We require support, guidance and access. For me, the support I received from the Tupperware scholarship and Boys & Girls Clubs of America mentorship were the keys to unlocking my future.

Today, I am a full-time student at Howard University in Washington, D.C. After I complete my undergraduate degree, I plan to attend law school. Education provides a form of security and empowerment. Education breaks down barriers. Education provides access to limitless opportunities. No matter what else happens in life, education remains a constant. No one in this world can take away your ability to think. The mind is a powerful tool! Intelligence is a beautiful thing!

Oprah Winfrey once said, "It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, the ability to triumph begins with you -- always."

Education is the key for young girls all over the world to grow up and do great things. In the words of Alice Walker, "The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don't have any."

I call on businesses and governments across the globe to invest in girls and women to help create a wave of opportunity for young women everywhere.