Amid the chaos of the pandemic, there has been inspiration.
In communities across the country, women have stepped up in ways large and small – often amid their own pandemic-related struggles – to support and care for one another, their neighbors and complete strangers, and to challenge the status quo.
That’s why, today, we’re launching USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a yearlong effort to recognize the strong and resilient women who have been leaders and champions, often quietly, but with powerful results. And often despite their own challenges.
As part of our project, we plan to honor a woman from every state, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories. And later this year, we will select – with the help of a diverse panel of judges – 10 honorees as USA TODAY’s Women of the Year.
Some of the women may be familiar names. Others may be new to you. But each one will have an inspiring and powerful story.
Women like Monika Owczarski, who last year transformed a dilapidated playground in Iowa into a garden that’s feeding mostly immigrant families. Women like Ethel Branch, who started a relief fund last March to help at-risk Navajo and Hopi people and has raised more than $18 million to help 370,000 Indigenous people survive the pandemic.
Women like Lydia Russo, who used her early isolation time in northern Virginia to build a vibrant online community of more than 11,000 people – 74% women – who have helped to support first responders, medical workers, local restaurants and businesses, and food-insecure families.
And women like Vice President Kamala Harris, who has a long record of championing change and fighting for equity. She broke a glass ceiling as not only the first woman vice president but also the first Black and South Asian person to hold that office. Harris is the first of USA TODAY’S Women of the Year.
USA TODAY’s Women of the Year follows last year’s successful Women of the Century project, which highlighted achievements of trailblazing women in the 100 years since they won the right to vote.
This year, our focus is on resilience – women who inspired change, championed equity, lifted others and gave women a place to seek help and find hope during the pandemic, as well as those who are fighting for change.
“I think there are so many heroes and angels who have been exposed – for their courage, for the value and the importance of their work and for their courage to keep doing it even in the face of exposing themselves and their families to harm and in particular, exposure to COVID,” Harris told USA TODAY on Wednesday.
“I’ve been focused on issues affecting women and girls my whole career.”
It’s also no accident that we’re launching our project during Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women in the United States.
But we want to celebrate women throughout the year. So look for regular stories and videos about female leaders every month starting in April, with additional features rolling out through the summer and fall.
We also want to hear from you, about the women who have helped, inspired and supported you in the past year. Who made a difference in your life, in your community?
Kristen DelGuzzi is managing editor for Opinion at USA TODAY. She also is project editor for USA TODAY’s Women of the Year. Follow her @kristendel.