Maya Smith is Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation.
On Monday, I had the supreme honor of watching Cynthia Germanotta sit beside leaders from around the world in Geneva at the 72nd World Health Assembly and be announced as the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for Mental Health.
Later that day, we sat eating fondue with our friends and partners at United for Global Mental Health, strategists of the Speak Your Mind campaign. Elisha London, their CEO and co-founder, turned to our team and asked, “Could you have imagined that you’d ever be here, doing this work?” Cynthia, the ever polite and humble one, answered that she was overwhelmed and so grateful. Rachel said something about our hard work and they turned to me and I said, “Yes.” I was too tired, proud, and overwhelmed in that moment to explain why I answered with such certainty but I’ve slept now and I’m headed home, seated next to the Ambassador and I’d like to better answer the question.
When I started at Born This Way Foundation, almost seven years ago, I would spend hours – even then – reading emails from Tássia in Brazil, Maria in Germany, Iggy in Japan, and Eduardo in Spain. Alongside my basic understanding of a few languages, Google Translate would help me read the impassioned stories of these young people from around the world who had found their voices, their communities, and their support through Lady Gaga’s bravery and talent. They would ask me when the foundation would come to their country and when we’d do work with and for their friends. While I didn’t have a date to give them, I’d tell them that they are part of a global movement, that we would be there soon, and that they are not alone. The first and last statements were always true and now, through the appointment of Cynthia as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Mental Health, we are closer to meeting these young people where they are so we can support them as they build the kinder, braver world they deserve.
Multiple times in Geneva, Cynthia turned to me, in crowded rooms of dignitaries, and whispered that she wants to be surrounded by young people. In these rooms, in every room. In the conversations this week, in every conversation. This new role is just the latest opportunity she will use to continue to call on young people to tell their own stories and to work tirelessly to provide them with the resources and platforms they need to share not only the challenges they face, but the solutions they know are possible.
Please join me, Lady Gaga, and the entire Born This Way Foundation community in offering Cynthia our big, loud, and incredibly proud congratulations. If you haven’t already, follow her on Twitter @MomGerm, on Instagram @CynthiaBTWF, and on Facebook @CynthiaGermanotta to tell her the changes you want to see in mental health and to stay posted as she gets to work as the WHO’s new Goodwill Ambassador for Mental Health!