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Tiana Day is committed to making impactful dreams come true. As the founder of the nonprofit Youth Advocates For Change, the USC Iovine and Young freshman uplifts and empowers students who are making the world a better place through the convergence of art and social justice. Since her organization’s inception in 2020, Day has boosted the voices of young changemakers through photoshoot campaigns, fundraisers, protests, and community service, but her reach isn’t limited to USC’s campus or her homebase in the Bay Area. She recently got the opportunity to bring her dynamic inspiration to Paris Fashion Week, sponsoring 14-year-old (yes, you read that right!) Ashlyn So, a fashion designer and activist whose work aims to combat Asian hate.
The heart of Youth Advocates For Change’s mission is “to amplify youth voices through intersectional social justice issues and creative arts.” The organization’s model works off the concept that students pitch ideas to Day that constitute these pillars, and So’s ambitions exemplify the types of projects Day is wholeheartedly devoted to supporting. Day found So when the then-thirteen-year-old was interviewed for Youth Advocates For Change’s student-run Amplify For Advocacy Podcast. She instantly connected with her story.
“Anywhere that bridges that gap between art and activism is where I want to come in and provide students with opportunities, resources, and connections to make their dream projects come to life,” Day says of her ultimate goal.
A woman wears a mask and a black t-shirt and poses with her back to the camera
When Day heard So illustrate her objectives as a young fashion innovator driven to represent the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, she said she “had seven lightbulbs go off” that would eventually further ignite So’s movement. Being Black and Filipino, Day felt personally aligned with So’s plight. So, who started sewing at age six and participated in her first New York Fashion Week at age nine, presented a 2021 collection sponsored by Youth Advocates For Change that acted as an “ode to activism,” designed to fight Asian American racism.
“She called it Beneath the Surface,” Day describes. “It was all repeating colors and lines and patterns that showed beneath the surface we’re all the same, and therefore we should unite in love. It was a really beautiful message.”
Day and So continued their purposeful partnership by organizing a collaboration protest called the Gold and Black Unity rally, uniting the Black and Asian communities, but they didn’t stop there. When Paris Fashion Week called, they answered with enthusiasm. So unveiled her latest collection in France on Oct. 2 during the storied sartorial event. Of course, Day and her team were right there lending encouragement (and walking the runway, because why not?).
A woman poses on the runway at a fashion show in a gown and pearls with her hair up
Photo Credit: Arun Nevader
Now an Academy student, Day has many titles under her belt – model, nonprofit founder, and CNN Hero, to name a few – but she didn’t aspire to become an activist until she fell into the role of one in a massively effective way. At age 17 in 2020, she led a Golden Gate Bridge Black Lives Matter Protest, co-organizing the event in just 18 hours. Thinking she would be expecting a group of dozens, Day was surprised and invigorated by the thousands that showed up to march alongside her. Suddenly she was a leader.
Day recalls, “After that everyone was like, ‘you just organized one of the largest protests in the country for BLM, what’s your next move and how do you want to create impact?’ These were questions I never had asked myself. I had never considered myself an activist before that moment.”
Day reveals that up until that turning point her surroundings and local worldview informed a lack of passion for education. That all transformed when she realized she could carve out an inclusive space for herself through art and advocacy that centered on the next generation of social justice trailblazers.
“I grew up in a suburban area that didn’t have a lot of representation. Being one of the only Black students and Black women, I constantly felt very isolated, which led me to start organizing for Black Lives Matter in 2020. I was finding my voice in this movement and youth advocacy in general,” Day notes. “I just realized there were a lack of spaces that offered that kind of support for young people.”
Day says that she took it upon herself to learn – and unlearn – history she had been taught relating to race and injustice. Soon enough her calling was set aflame and education became a newfound interest. She actualized the impact she was able to make and the ability to “love life again.” Youth Advocates For Change ended up raising $30,000 for Black students to go to college. When it came to higher education for Day herself, she felt the Academy was the only way to go. It was the one school she applied to.
“Once I found out about it, I had tunnel vision. I was like, ‘I will be here.'”
a woman stands in front of stairs wearing a baseball cap and denim shorts while surrounded by red and gold balloons
Day made it. Now that she’s here, Day’s set on making the most of her collegiate experience. Discovering a love for design after her time immersed in the fashion industry, she wants to “actually make things” now that she has access to the Academy’s tools and studio spaces. She looks to her peers to embolden her to innovate creatively while enacting meaningful change.
“It’s just a really inspiring environment. I knew that with my passion being multifaceted and wanting to be a changemaker and shake things up, being in a space with people who are like-minded to have those same kinds of goals was really important,” she says. “When I found the Academy, the only thing I could think of was how aligned it was with my organization and that’s why I chose it.”
Day adds, “I feel very supported at the Academy. I can’t describe it any other way. The main reason I started organizing was because of the lack of support I got in education and the space I grew up in. Here, I feel like it’s, ‘we got your back.’ It just makes me so happy.”
While Day sets out on her own academic journey, Youth Advocates For Change continues to expand. It’s hard to even imagine how Day and her organization might “shake things up” next, but if her story is any indication of what lies ahead, Paris Fashion Week is only the beginning.
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