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When Peyton Klein was a young girl, she cherished her American Girl doll, Samantha.
Samantha arrived with an inspiring backstory, as do all American Girl dolls. The Victorian girl, living with her wealthy grandmother in 1904, meets and befriends other girls from less fortunate backgrounds. She tries to help make a difference in their lives.
“I grew up loving my American Girl doll and I have great memories of my grandparents in New York, going and visiting the store,” says Klein, a Pittsburgh native who is from Squirrel Hill. “I remember being really connected with her. And she looked like me and I thought that was cool.”
Klein outgrew her doll but took her lessons to heart. At the age of 15, she founded Global Minds at Taylor Allderdice High School to foster intercultural friendships between traditional students and immigrant teens who were learning English. She started with a group of 10 kids that grew to 150 students within a month.
Global Minds now boasts a network of 25 schools and more than 3,000 kids across North America. Earlier this year, the effort merged with and became a leading program of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh. This week, Klein was announced as a member of Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 Class of 2022.
When American Girl decided to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a new Making Herstory series of young women implementing change, Klein was a natural choice. Now 20 and a student at Stanford University, Klein was chosen as one of four youth activists to celebrate the launch of American Girl’s World By Us, a diverse line of characters engaged in social justice.
Each of the four young women received their own lookalike doll, starred in videos on the American Girl website and published letters that tell their stories of activism. Other participants include:
- Edna Chavez, 21, an immigrant rights activist;
- Yasmine Mabene, 19, a climate activist;
- and Naomi Wadler, 14, who focuses on racial justice.
“It’s such an honor to be recognized by American Girl,” Klein says. “I remember the stories of the American Girl dolls being so special. I hope to be a role model in the sense that my story is not intangible and I’m not some hero. Just someone who had an idea and took action. And any other girl reading that story can do that, too.”
She says, laughing, that her 8-year-old self would be impressed. But she insists her story is not unique.
“Youth are standing up in their communities all across the country,” she says. “All it takes is seeing an issue and having the courage and confidence to act.”