In our Reasons for Hope in America series, we spotlight thought leaders who are rewriting the rules for a brighter future.
Unplugging is currently not an option for Teja Foster. Though she dreams about a tropical getaway sometime soon, the 30-year-old, who monitors and manages more than a dozen social-media accounts for politically engaged groups like Rock the Vote and She the People, knows relaxation will just have to wait. For now she is laser-focused 24/7 on doing everything in her power to get young people to the polls for the election in November. “When I joined Rock the Vote in 2018, it was stuck in the ’90s MTV rock-band era,” she says. “I’ve tried to transform it into a space where people of every color can be educated and feel seen.” Since Foster took charge, the organization’s Instagram following has grown from 15,000 to more than 139,000. And this year the nonprofit is on track to register a record-breaking one million people to vote. “I am not a social-media celebrity,” she says. “But the impact I have on my direct community, registering voters, is definitely my biggest accomplishment.”
Foster fully entered social media in 2016 when she launched the website and hashtag #SchoolsNotPrisons, which called for a shift in public spending away from incarceration and toward education. The campaign brought free concerts headlined by the likes of Miguel, Pusha T, and Ty Dolla $ign to low-income neighborhoods across California. “I like to stay very in tune with pop culture, focusing on artists who already talk about voting in their music,” Foster says. “And as a Black woman, being able to stay in the hip-hop community while making an impact on politics was amazing. It became my specialty.” After #SchoolsNotPrisons, Foster worked on a few other social-justice-themed campaigns before landing at Rock the Vote. She recently launched her own social-media agency, Get Social with Teja, and also began working with She the People, an organization that supports women of color running for office (including Senator Kamala Harris).
Foster’s favorite thing about her job? Driving social-justice action IRL. “When I was 12, growing up in Oakland, I lost a friend to gun violence,” she says. “And there was nothing I could do about it back then. There was no creating a hashtag to get people to understand what happened or to get lawmakers to sign a bill for a new mandate in the area. It was just like, ‘That’s life; you have to move on.’ ” Foster says she is inspired by the power of storytelling on Twitter that has led to some of the biggest movements of our time, from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter. “The platform kids have today is amazing,” she says. “Social media carries the weight of events, of organizing, and of people telling their stories.” Foster, of course, is here to help make sure those words are heard. “I pride myself on being a part of this historic time,” she says. “I look back at the civil-rights movements, and I’m like, ‘Damn, if I had been born in the 1960s, I would have been right there!’ But I’m doing it in the 2020 form, and I’m OK with that.”
For more stories like this, pickup the November issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Oct. 23rd.
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