Today’s young leaders: Ganna Omar – Part 1

Houghton County 4-H’er Ganna Omar isn’t waiting to become an adult to be a leader in her community—she’s being a leader today.

Ganna Omar (right) with one of the Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up vice presidents. Photo: Ganna Omar.
Ganna Omar (right) with one of the Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up vice presidents. Photo: Ganna Omar.

Every time I hear someone use the phrase “Youth are the leaders of tomorrow,” I grit my teeth. As a community-based educator with a focus on helping young people to develop leadership, civic engagement and citizenship skills, I frequently hear adults—and occasionally some youth—use this seemingly common phrase. I grit my teeth because the stories of people like Ganna Omar, a 15-year old from Michigan’s Houghton County, are apparently not known by very many people. That’s a shame because Omar’s story illustrates something I have had the joy of seeing over and over again through my work at Michigan State University Extension. What I know is young people don’t have to wait until “tomorrow” to make a difference in their communities. Youth are, in fact, leaders of today and Omar is one of them.

Omar expresses a forward-thinking perspective that is embedded with the belief that in order to create the kind of communities she and other young people want to live in, youth need to engage as leaders today. “My life motto is ‘Our World is Our Responsibility’,” said Omar. “It’s easy to see things the way you don’t want them to be, but to ignore that and shrug it off. What we need to be doing as youth is being even more actively engaged than our older community members because the community is going to be handed down to us. I absolutely believe that it is not only important for young people to be involved in their communities, but a moral responsibility. The community is ours, as youth, for the taking, and if we want it to be a safe and productive society for ourselves and our children, we have to be the ones actively offering our opinions and sparking change.”

It might be tempting for someone who doesn’t know Omar to dismiss her words as some sort of unrealistic youthful idealism, but not once they find out how she’s actually been putting her beliefs into action.

Omar is a member of the Houghton County 4-H archery club called Copper Tips. As a Houghton County 4-H member, Omar has spearheaded a community book drive that raised over 100 books and, being an author of three published books, has led workshops through 4-H on writing and the publishing process.

In addition to serving as a member of the Keweenaw Community Foundation’s Youth Advisory Council and the Houghton Keweenaw 4-H Council, Omar is also the founder and leader of a group of 17 local teens who share the goal of eliminating gender inequality with a special emphasis on addressing the issue in the developing world. Her group, which is called Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up, is completely run by high school students.

“Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up really prides itself in that we have no adult directly involved with our work,” said Omar. “Our success is literally our success. We meet every week to discuss what our ambitions are for our community and larger scale international issues, and make plans accordingly.”

According to Omar, the Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up group is one chapter in a global community of Girl Up groups that engage high school aged youth around the world by empowering girls to be leaders in addressing gender inequality and other topics.

To learn more about Omar and the Houghton Keweenaw Girl Up group, continue reading Part 2 of this news article series.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, civic engagement, citizenship and global/cultural programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H positively impacted individuals and communities in 2015 can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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