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This former gang member and drug addict turned her life around to help others

A woman in a blue dress standing on stage.

*six-two 35 under 35 changemaker of 2018 – young leaders of tomorrow category

A gang member, alcohol and drug addict all before the age of 15, Kimberly Ramirez Gonzalez didn’t have the easiest start in life. But now this crazy inspiring young woman has turned her life around, creating a programme to both identify and help young Hispanic girls who are at risk of going down the same path Kimberley once trod…

As a girl growing up, Kimberly’s childhood in California was fraught with adversity. She was part of a gang, suffered from domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, and watched her 11 year old sister die at the age of 13. in 2013, her Father, a drug dealer, was shot and almost died from a drug related crime. When he was arrested, the police said he had so many drugs in his body, he was at risk of overdose.

As a child, how are you meant to deal with this?

Kimberley managed to escape the gang lifestyle and is now more than two years sober. But she didn’t just stop there. Having overcome her own struggles, Kimberley has now dedicated her life to helping others. It was this troubled upbringing that led her to create Girls United, a high school nonprofit programme aimed at inspiring other at-risk Hispanic young women.

Girl’s United provides a safe space for high school girls who have experienced everything from drug abuse, depression, eating disorders and domestic violence – providing them with a chance to seek help, to feel heard and to heal as a group.

Kimberly is now four years into her cause, and has no plans to stop doing what she’s doing. Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, either. Kimberly has taken the stage alongside the likes of Morgan Freeman and Selena Gomez to tell her story and advocate for the importance of youth-led action at WE day California, as well as addressing thousands at her TED talk:

At only 20 years old, Kimberly is an absolute force of nature, setting an example that even if you feel there’s no way out of difficult times at home, you can always turn it around and thrive in spite of your difficult upbringing. Here’s to Kimberley being personally recognised by Craig Kielburger and making our 35 under 35 changemakers of 2018 list, and here’s to not letting your past define who you are in the present. 

To learn more about the six-two 35 under 35 initiative, and to see the individuals who made the list, head here.