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Calif. Youth Attend Launch of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation

by Megan Barnes
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 7, 2012

Youth leaders from across California joined Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey and others at Harvard University on Feb. 29 for the official launch of the Born This Way Foundation.

The foundation, created last year by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, aims to empower youth to be change makers in their communities.

Eighteen young activists from across the state were chosen by the California Endowment to participate in the Born This Way Foundation's launch event, including a youth summit where they connected with organizers from other states.

"Opportunities like this don't come often and we jumped at the chance to involve some of our Health Happens Here community youth leaders in this unique event that will empower, educate and inspire them with ideas about how to make they can take back to their communities," said Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment.

Health Happens Here is the endowment's 10-year, $1 billion initiative to improve health in 14 underserved communities throughout California. The Born This Way Foundation connected with the endowment as part of its national outreach.

"We're thrilled to have a strong and vocal new ally for our youth in the Born This Way Foundation and Lady Gaga," said Ross.

The California youth delegation partook in Youth Advocacy Bootcamp, online activism training, a bullying prevention summit and a tour of the Harvard campus. The day culminated with a keynote speech by Lady Gaga at the university's Sanders Theatre.

"I want the Born This Way Foundation, through its three pillars of skills, safety, and opportunity, to come up with the greatest ways we can to empower youth all over the world," Lady Gaga told an audience that included Winfrey, Dr. Deepak Chopra and Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Lady Gaga personally made a $1.2 million donation to the foundation, which she said is not specifically focused on bullying prevention, but on youth empowerment.

Chris Covington was surprised to learn that he was among those picked to fly out to Massachusetts for the launch event. The 21-year-old college student from Long Beach is active in the Health Happens Here initiative as well as the California Conference for Equality and Justice.

"It was a mind-blowing experience," said Covington. "I have never in my life had the opportunity to really talk to so many youth who have the same issues as I do and it really encouraged me. When I got to hear Lady Gaga and Oprah and the professionals on stage, it rejuvenated me to continue this work."

He was able to meet Lady Gaga by chance when he slipped out of a workshop to use the restroom and bumped into her in a hallway.

Covington said he wants to take the energy and momentum from the launch event back to Long Beach.

"One thing she said to us was, 'I want you to use me. Use me to achieve your goals. Whether it means me saying something or giving you my connections, this is your opportunity to use me,'" he said. "She wants to create an army of empowered youth to go out and fight the fight of having inclusive and equitable communities all over the United States."

Germanotta commended the California delegates for their activism in their communities.

"The bravery and leadership they've demonstrated in helping prioritize community health issues in their neighborhoods and schools is exactly what we hope to inspire across the country," she said.

Megan Barnes is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles. She regularly contributes to EDGE, San Pedro Today and was a founding editor of alternative UCSB newspaper The Bottom Line. More of her work can be found at


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