In April 2017, 16-year-old Deja Foxx stood up at a town hall with Sen. Jeff Flake from Arizona and questioned him about his support of legislation allowing states to block health clinics that perform abortions from receiving federal Title X family-planning money, a move that makes it more difficult for low-income people to access birth control, cancer screenings, and more.
"I just want to state some facts," she said to Flake. "I'm a young woman; you're a middle-aged man. I'm a person of color, and you're white. I come from a background of poverty, and I didn't always have parents to guide me through life; you come from privilege."
The exchange went viral, but that wasn't the last we were going to hear from Foxx, who has experienced homelessness and says Planned Parenthood has helped her write her own success story. She is now a student at Columbia University, just launched an organization called Gen Z Girl Gang, is on Teen Vogue's 21 Under 21, and introduces herself as "your future president." She was also just named a MAC Viva Glam ambassador, the youngest MAC ambassador ever.
"At just 15, I borrowed my boyfriend at the time's car and drove the 45 minutes to the clinic with no insurance, no parent, and no money, but with a determination to take control of my reproductive health and my future," Foxx said on Wednesday evening in a speech at the annual Planned Parenthood NYC gala, where she received the Catalyst of Change award. "I was treated with respect and care, and walked away with six months of birth control at no cost to me. And I'm proud to stand in front of you today, living proof that because of the tireless work people like you get up and do every day, politicians like Jeff Flake didn't stand a damn chance." The award was presented by Karamo Brown from Queer Eye, and PPNYC honored Spike and Tonya Lewis Lee on the same night.
Ahead, we talked to Foxx, now 19, about her activism, Gen Z Girl Gang, and more.
What have you been up to since you stood up to Jeff Flake that night?
"Back home in Arizona, I helped found the El Rio Reproductive Health Access Project, which trains (and pays) non-traditional leaders like homeless teens, POC, and teen moms to become peer sex educators who run weekly clinics where young people can come in and receive STI testing and birth control at no cost to them. In about a year, we've served over 1,600 young people.
"I organized my peers at Columbia University to get first-generation low-income students recognized for the first time ever as a Special Internet Community (some preexisting SICs are for LGBTQIA+, Latinx, and Native students). With this recognition, we get funding and a physical shared living space on campus, which next year I will lead as the community coordinator. I also volunteer at a homeless shelter, and I serve as a senior partner at JUV Consulting, a Gen Z marketing company run completely by members of Gen Z."
In your PPNYC speech, you said you're committed to helping other girls find inspiration in themselves because you see their success tied to yours. Tell us more about what Gen Z Girl Gang will do.
"I founded Gen Z Girl Gang and we launched on April 26. We're having a launch party May 4 in NYC. We're an Instagram community determined to redefine sisterhood for a new generation, and we do it by experimenting with social media as a community-building tool and inverting the typical top-down structure to instead center our audience as our content creators."
You also said in your speech that when you were accepted to Columbia, it was "an earth-shattering moment where the world opens and anything feels possible and girls like me have the confidence to say with their whole chest, 'I’m going to be president one day.'" What inspires you to want to run for president?
"Ever since I was a kid I’d thought about it, but it didn’t feel attainable or realistic until I saw someone as unqualified as Trump do it. Then I thought to myself, I could do a better job. Why not me?"
Do you have any favorite candidates in the 2020 presidential race, and what type of activism do you plan to do around it?
"I don't have any favorites yet. But I'm going to put my efforts this election cycle not behind one candidate, or even behind changing minds from red to blue, but instead toward turning non-voters into voters and really engaging communities who are traditionally left out of this process."