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HL World/ Day-in-The-Life
Date posted: 03-29-02

20 Teens Who Will Change The World...

by Danya Steele
Photos by Staff and TeenPeople


The Good News; Silently Psyched
The editors at Teen People inspire me. The teens included in the April 2002 issue of Teen People’s annual, “20 Teens Who Will Change The World” editorial special inspire me even more. If only for a day and a half out of my world, I was fortunate to be in the same room and living vicinity with some of the most inspirational, motivational, genuinely interesting, and innovative human beings that I’ve ever met in my life.

Back in about December or January, I received an email with the subject line “Teen PEOPLE Magazine.” Enclosed within the email was a written request to know more about me and what I do at HarlemLive, my aspirations for the future, my accomplishments in the past. Stephanie Booth, freelance writer for Teen People told me she’d been strongly considering me for an upcoming TP special entitled “20 Teens Who Will Change The World”. I’d actually heard of this special before, as I’d been a subscriber to Teen People in the past. It's ironic actually; I remember checking out the magazine's piece before, admiring its concept yet jokingly adding on that they were missing an element by not having someone "like me" in the special. Well...I guess I can't complain now, can I?

I was immediately honored to have even been considered as one of the twenty, and to be honest, was so psyched about the nomination itself, I barely had time to think of the possibility that I’d eventually be chosen. To fathom a bunch of people within a room, discerning me as one of twenty teens in the world who’d grow up to inevitably change it, blew me away. I didn’t mention this to anyone, wanting to keep everything discreet until I received a definite “yes." I suppose you could say I was just silently psyched. I wouldn’t know for a matter of weeks whether I’d be chosen or not, and therefore after my initial “taken back” moment, simply progressed along with my daily life, placing the nomination into the back pocket of my mind. I figured I’d hear from them again if I was meant to, and didn’t think much of it afterwards.

Soon after, Stephanie emailed me with additional questions following the first set, and finally, I was informed that I was indeed chosen as one of the twenty teens. It’s strange; despite the fact that I’d now received the “definite yes”, I still kept the news pretty low-key. I told a few family members along with a best friend or two, but for the most part, didn’t say anything. I've never been one to feel comfortable with blowing my own horn. After hearing the news, I just inked the Teen People awards ceremony into my schedule and looked forward to meeting the other teens.

Days, past, weeks went by, and I barely even noticed. The awards ceremony came around so quickly! It’s already March! As my car dropped me off in front of a very trendy, very discreet downtown hotel on Monday afternoon, I remember pulling off my shades and looking around, thinking “Wow.” I think moreso than the flashy awards ceremonies, or the moments with photographers or press, it’s those moments of just reflecting on random predicaments that increase your confidence and ambition. These sorts of predicaments make you just sit back and wonder, “I got this far just by doing this? If that’s the case, what would happen if I did...this...or this?” It’s just motivating.

First Night
All of the teens in town for the awards ceremony gathered to meet and interact with each other on Monday night.. Full of questions, the air was abuzz with inquisitive and anxious emotion as no one was quite sure what to expect from the entire thing. It was the first time for all of us to be in this sort of event; everyone was so wide-eyed. I remember walking in and introducing myself to the varied teens, one such teen was a coincidental déjà vu.

“I know you”, she said. Before me stood an Asian girl with a bright smile and stare that insinuated she actually did know me from somewhere. I’ll admit her face did look slightly familiar in the magazine, but I couldn’t place where I knew her. It’d been a few years (seemingly more) since I last saw her, and I’m sorry to admit, but I didn’t watch the Winter Olympics, so I had no idea of what she’d really done since then.

It was the voice of Julie Chu, United States Olympic silver medalist for women’s ice hockey, as well as the first Asian female to ever win a medal in the sport. As I replied with an unsure, “Hmm..I don’t think so...”, she insisted, “No no no...I know you!!”

We stared at each other for a moment. Me, with my occasional flashes of junior Alzheimer’s, stared blankly with an Italian garlic knot in my hand. Blink. Blink. “Umm...” I murmured. Still...nothing. She stared and thought about it for another moment as well. Finally she proclaimed, “I know!!!”

“Didn’t you apply to CHOATE?” she asks. I suddenly remembered where I knew her from. I’d applied to the very prestigious [and very expensive, by the way] Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school in freshman year of high school, and she’d been my very cool all-day tour guide. Little did I know, we’d simultaneously meet up in an event like this, or that I’d meet her again years later, an Olympic medalist. I mean I do remember her mentioning hockey practice and its heavy schedule in emails, but little did I know...

It’s a small world after all...

After dinner, I suggested we all do something with our time as no one really had anything planned. Everyone agreed that idle admiration at the hotel wasn’t a desired option, so we all headed down to Rockefeller Center to go ice skating. Monday night, we left the parents and relatives back at the hotel and headed out as a bunch of vivacious young people on the town.

As the only New Yorker in the group, (the other New Yorker stayed back at the hotel) everyone turned to me for possible to-dos in New York City. I told them about Lazer Park, the theatre district, a few clubs, and other possible spots that were well beyond doable in the city. By the time we headed out of Rockefellar however, it was pretty late, and a bunch of things, (on a Monday night) like Lazer Park, were already closed. We decided to go back to our hotels before we’d decide where to carry on from there.

When we arrived at the hotel, there were giant gift bags in our rooms bursting with free items thanks to everyone from Jansport, Loreal, Arista Records, to Todd Oldham. After going googly-eyed over our free packages and just relaxing in one of the teens’ hotel rooms, we finally decided to venture out into the [Greenwich Village] inevitably settling into a cozy little coffee house at about one something in the morning. There, we talked about everything from the judging at the Winter Olympics to contemporary race relations to our least favored member on MTV’s Real World.

We all indulged in late night convo’ until we were tired enough to go back to our hotel beds. Monday night/ Tuesday morning was a blast, and somewhat of a bonding experience for all of the teens involved in the report. I stumbled my way into bed at around two or so on Tuesday morning, set my alarm to wake me up on time, and floated away to a comfort level of deep R.E.M.

Tuesday Morning
The structure of the offices at Teen People are pretty cool; it’s young, laid back yet progressive, energetic, and just all around positive. We were taken on a tour of the entire place on Tuesday morning following a brief breakfast, and I couldn’t help but to take mental interior designing notes along the way for the upcoming HarlemLive space on 125th & 8th avenue. The tour followed a brief breakfast to meet some of the Teen People editorial board and staff and prefaced the awards ceremony.

Awards Ceremony
The awards ceremony was WONDERFUL. Teen People's publisher/moderator for the event announced her elation with having someone involved in media publishing on the list. "All I can say is I'm glad they FINALLY put a PUBLISHER on the list!" she exclaimed, followed by a warm chuckle from the crowd. "I've been waiting for four years now! Four years! It's about time!"

With music performances by Solange (Beyonce Knowles' younger sister), Element (a group composed of the prior members of the hit show "Making The Band"), M2M ( a new female pop duo), along with Josh Groban, an Italian classical singer who came close to bringing tears to the crowd, I'd say the event was an astounding success. Each teen was awarded with a $1, 000 scholarship from Loreal and provided with the opportunity to approach the podium and speak on what the scholarship, accolade, and experience meant to them. In my brief speech, I focused on how talented the other teens were, and how I was just lucky to be included within the bunch.

Every single teen that I've met on this list has an incredible amount of ambition. They're all very focused when they want to get things done, and they're all very determined to change things. Now that the event is all over and cameras have stopped flickering, I'm back to my normal life. It was a great experience -- both humbling and motivating -- and I've remained in contact with the other teens. There are talks of a five year reunion; next year they'll be reuniting the first class of "20 Teens" to see what they've accomplished or what changes they've made. They'll do the same with my class. So now, I suppose the question is posed: Where will Danya Steele be in five years? Well. Watch me.


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