Teen Vogue taps Hillary Clinton and Ava DuVernay to blaze a trail for youth empowerment in Playa Vista

By Christina Campodonico

Teen Vogue Editor-in-Chief Elaine Welteroth paired Hillary Clinton and “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi for a conversation about empowering young women
Photos by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Teen Vogue

Can fashion and politics coexist on a glossy teen magazine platform?

It was a foreign concept in legacy media before Teen Vogue rocked the Twitterverse last December with a bold op-ed on how President-elect Donald Trump was “gaslighting America.”

A year later, Teen Vogue continues to incisively pair political commentary with fashion-forwardness — (why wouldn’t they?) — and brought that sensibility to its first-ever Teen Vogue Summit, which concluded in Playa Vista on Saturday.

A political thread ran through the day of panels, workshops and keynotes as seamlessly as the flourish of faux white fur that peppered giant bean bags, outdoor lounges and butterfly chairs on 72andSunny’s airy corporate campus.

The morning began with a call to action as “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi interviewed former presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. HRC urged a crowd of hundreds — mostly millennial and Gen Z women and girls — to vote in upcoming midterm elections and hold their representatives accountable for their recent actions in Congress.

“This is a burning house,” Clinton said. “Now, hopefully, the fire isn’t that big yet, and there’s still a lot of time to put it out. But it will only be put out by people standing up and claiming their rights, claiming their values again, and voting. In 2018, we have a chance to stop this mean-spirited effort to undermine our rights and set our progress back, but it will only happen if people can get out and vote.”

Clinton also advised young and future voters to not “look for the perfect campaign and the perfect candidate,” she said, “because there’s no such thing as a perfect human being. Look for people who generally agree with you.”

Film director Ava DuVernay encouraged young women to earn the respect of potential mentors

Later in the day Rep. Maxine Waters, whose district includes Playa del Rey and Westchester, did not disappoint the young progressives who’ve taken to calling
the outspoken Trump critic “Auntie Maxine.” She led the crowd in chanting “Impeach 45” after an eviscerating condemnation: “Donald Trump does not deserve to be president of the United States of America. … This man is deplorable and he’s dangerous. You cannot depend on anything he says.”

But it was 14-year-old actress Storm Reid, the star of the much-anticipated spring film “A Wrinkle in Time,” who made perhaps the most profound if not out-rightly political statement of the day.

“I have a really strong belief that we have the ‘IT’ in the book and the movie, and then we have an ‘IT’ right now, in our world,” said Reid, referencing the evil villain of the novel and film and perhaps some contemporary force. “In order for real change we all have to come together and be one to basically save the universe, because it’s ugly right now. It’s real ugly.”

When politics took a back seat, the gathering was buoyed by attendees’ eagerness to connect with each other and learn from the summit’s speakers, workshop leaders and panelists — among them YouTube entertainer Lilly Singh, who participated in a panel on content creation,  and ground-breaking film director Ava DuVernay. She spoke about “A Wrinkle in Time” with Reid and co-star Rowan Blanchard as well as mentoring women and people of color in the film industry.

“It’s important that we pass the knowledge along, pass the love along, and pass along the idea that we could lead in any moment,” said DuVernay.

Between keynotes, stylishly-dressed teens and twentysomethings, even thirthysomethings and moms accompanying their preteen daughters — many sporting white PB Teen backpacks stuffed with swag — excitedly shuffled between panels on building a beauty empire to workshops on combatting sexual assault, like students dashing between classes.

“I really wanted to come today because I wanted to learn as much as I could,” said 21-year-old Maliyah Mason, a senior at Cal State Long Beach who also holds the title of Miss Compton 2017. “I wanted to get new ideas on how I could grow and develop as a person. … I’m just so happy that this is a new event, where people from across the country can come together and can talk to like-minded people and get new ideas on how they’re going to be innovators and activists and trailblazers.”

Mom and startup founder Carole Hamm, who flew in from Maine, was excited to expose her 12-year-old daughter to the conference’s unique opportunities, even its serious topics.

“I want her to start learning early how to find her way and navigate these issues [of being a woman] and help her come out a stronger young lady,” said Hamm. “I kind of look to Teen Vogue for some of that guidance.”

But the day wasn’t all lectures in real world subjects. You could bedazzle
a Juicy Couture jacket at one station, or chat with a “mentor” like TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie at another. Stars like singing-songwriting sister duo Aly and AJ paused to take selfies with fans in the hallways of 72andSunny.  And Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches circulated on platters during the afternoon.

The night capped off with a guided meditation by “Hunger Games” actress Amandla Stenberg and a performance showcase featuring singer-songwriting duo Alex Belle and Isis V., among other artists.

Admission to the summit was pricy: $299 for Friday’s professional development “@Werk Immersions” at various L.A. tech and media companies, $399 for Saturday’s summit, or $549 for a two-day pass. At least 50 participants attended on scholarship.

But most of the attendees I spoke with walked away inspired — pleased with their investment — even if there weren’t enough sandwiches to go around at lunchtime.

“I really just thought of Teen Vogue as a magazine,” reflected Loyola Marymount University senior Tallie Spencer. “I think this is going to change the world of journalism and magazines and news a little bit, because it’s going to inspire people to be their own brands and make a difference and make their ideas into a reality.”

“It’s encouraging,” added 33-year-old activist, artist and attorney Mary David. “I think a lot of times for older generations, there is this fear of younger generations being so obsessed with social media and so focused on self. What this event has done for me is show me that there are so many [young people] out there who are just brilliant and have the most beautiful mindset.”