Lateefah Simon, the executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) in San Francisco, leads a distinctive and bold program to guide troubled girls from delinquency and poverty to healthy and productive adulthoods. In the service of impoverished teens and young women with histories of drug addiction, prostitution, or abuse, many living on the streets and some with criminal records, the Center offers a path towards improved self-esteem and economic stability. Simon hires young women who have faced similar challenges to serve as mentors, providing them job training, health insurance, and a living wage. By tapping into the talent and experiences of street-smart young women, she instills a sense of community that young women use to help themselves and each other out of difficult circumstances. Her strategy recognizes several elements to successful transition. To turn their lives around, young women in trouble need guidance navigating the criminal justice system and emotional support from people they can trust. To give themselves a chance for a better life, these women also need to maintain their health, learn employable skills, and develop leadership potential. Simon and her colleagues at the Center have developed peer-mentoring programs to address each. Beyond the specific projects of her organization, though, Simon demonstrates the immense potential of leadership, diligence, resourcefulness, and vision for effectively addressing seemingly intractable social challenges.
Lateefah Simon began working at the Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco in the Street Survival Outreach Program in 1993. Three and a half years later, in 1997, she became the Center’s Executive Director. She is a frequent speaker at national conferences and serves on numerous advisory panels devoted to juvenile justice, including the San Francisco Youth Commission and the Juvenile Justice Commission. Simon has also been an organizer and spokesperson for Rock the Vote.