Photo Series Shows 'A New Picture Of Leadership' By Featuring All Female 'Change Makers'

“Just knowing these women are doing these fantastic things in their industries, for other people, for themselves, that rubs off ... "

In every area of life, there are people deserving of a little extra attention for their efforts to make the world a better place. Too often, we hear about powerful men carving out innovative spaces, but it's about time women got the spotlight.  

In an effort to feature some of these amazing people, three women — Camile Sardina, Jena Cumbo, and Mary Dove — created Change Makersa photo and storytelling project highlighting 30 women (and counting!) who are spearheading positive social change in their industries, communities, and themselves, each in their own unique, yet far-reaching, ways. 

It all started last January on a bus to the Women's March. Serendipity by way of seating arrangement brought Sardina, Cumbo, and Dove together. "I had just seen this great Annie Lebowitz show called 'Women' at the Bayview prison, which is gonna be The Women's Building [offering office space for organizations advocating for women and children], and I was just really taken by the way women photograph other women; they show such strength in a way that I'd never seen in a man's photograph before. I was so moved by that." She shared these thoughts with Cumbo, who instantly responded, "Well, we should do something like that." 

Dove thought they shouldn't just photograph, but document the stories of women making social change in their industries as further testament to their power. That's when Sardina jumped in. "Well, I can write," she said. With the photography and writing taken care of, Dove said, "Well, I know I can do something, too. So let's figure this out together."

That "something" turned out to be producing. As Lean In NYC's community organizer, Dove had spent years hobnobbing with extraordinary women (like herself and her colleagues). "I've met so many tremendous women — that was part of my process of who we chose," she explained. "But all of us have met extraordinary women ... so we actually looked at that list, and we said, 'Who's having the biggest impact in their area? And who can really tell their story in a way that can reach a bigger audience to create change?' " 

Fast forward to June, and they had their answers.

Thus began the first Change Makers photo shoot, by Cumbo and her all-women hair and makeup teams for women of all different backgrounds, industries, and ages. So far, the youngest woman they've interviewed and photographed has been Daunette Reyome, a 14-year-old Native American model and activist, while the oldest is Brenda Bufalino, an 80-year-old innovator leading the world of tap dance. 

Cumbo told A Plus, "We want these women to feel as important as they are." Most of them aren't in industries (like fashion) where they'd normally be featured in a glamorous photo shoot, so Cumbo said "We really want them to feel great and pampered so they're looking like the best version of themselves."

Dawnette Reyome (left) and Brenda Bufalino (right)  Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

"I am constantly meeting these fabulous women who are doing amazing things in their industries, and I take something from that every time I interview them," Sardina told A Plus. "... I have grown immensely from interviewing the over 30 women so far. It's an honor – it's an honor to be a part of this project." 

The experience has helped her become "a lot more grateful" every day. "Just knowing these women are doing these fantastic things in their industries, for other people, for themselves, that rubs off and it inspires me," she added. "It makes me believe that, 'Hey, I could do that, too.'"

Those involved with "Change Makers" hope their stories inspire others, too.

"After the Women's March, everyone was left with this feeling of 'So now what?' And one of the things I like to do when I do photo projects is draw attention to the positive," Cumbo said. "So with this project … we're so lucky to know so many amazing people that do awesome things, but we wanted to draw attention to that [and] be like, 'No, there is a lot you can do. It's not all despair and woe is us. Get up and look at what these ladies are doing.'" 

For Cumbo, one of those watershed moments happened when she met a Change Maker named Yassmin Abdel-Magied. "Her story was so unique, and she's a Muslim immigrant who was raised in Australia and she's a mechanical engineer [who] worked on an oil rig, and she's making people aware of their own unconscious bias." Only in her mid-20s, she's already done a TED Talk about unconscious bias. "Yassmin is able to make people aware of things, and the way she does it, she has such a light and an energy that makes it really fun to hear about," Cumbo added. "She educates people in a way that's not scolding; it's just making people aware." 

Yassmin Abdel-Magied Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

While every Change Maker story has impacted the women behind it, making it difficult for them to pick favorites, Dove said, "... I think one that really stood out for me is Judaline Cassidy who's a plumber in New York. She's been in the Local 1 union for 20 years and is responsible for contributing to some of the biggest buildings we have in New York." Not only that, but according to Dove, she's also on the advisory board for The Women's Building and, simply put, "fearless." The 5-foot-2 plumber has had to work really hard to ascend through the ranks. "And now, she is advocating and supporting other women to get into the trades," Dove added. "And I think it's awesome." 

Judaline Cassidy Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

For Sardina, it was Brynn Gingras, national correspondent for CNN. "I've always been a really big fan of hers, and I've always found the broadcasting industry fascinating," she explained. "I love that Brynn truly sees both sides of every story, and on top of that, she covers stories that embody women empowerment. So right now, she's covering the Harvey Weinstein case, and she's covering what all the women have gone through who have been victim to him." 

While none of the women could've predicted the #MeToo movement rising up in the latter part of 2017 when they first came up with Change Makers in January, they're quick to see the project's place in this larger moment of cultural reckoning. "I think that creating more equality actually will lower the level of violence towards women, so I think all of this work is really significant because I think every time we see a woman in power, or we see a woman on a building site or we see a woman who's a leader in the arts or any area, I think it starts to change it," Dove said. "... Sexual harassment is essentially about power, and I think when we start to change the power dynamics, we lower the amount of violence towards women." 

Brynn Gingras Courtesy of Jena Cumbo

While the women continue adding stories to their website — there will never be too many — they're also working on different forms of inclusive community outreach through a series of speaker events showcasing the women featured in the project and an exhibition of the photographs.  

"Our real goal is to capture these stories, to document them, but also to make them available to young men and women to see a new picture of leadership," Dove said. It's important to her that the project appeals and feels accessible to both women and men, including her own. "I have a son who's 14 years old, and I actually think change happens when you include everybody – when you bring everybody to the party," she added. "...The reason we love the Women's March so much is that it wasn't just women marching, but there were men there too, supporting us… We can't make this change alone as women, and we have to engage men in the conversation. I think that men can be great advocates." 

Ultimately, the women aim to compile all of the stories and photographs into a book that will stand the test of time. Those interested in learning even more from the life-changing stories of powerful women can read the full selection on the Change Makers website. 

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