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Founder & Executive Director


“I knew I wanted to create something I hadn’t seen before. I wanted to do something that wasn’t contingent on people in power making decisions about what our people need and what we deserve.” 

-Eva Maria Lewis

After the shooting of Trayvon Martin, FRO founder Eva Maria Lewis protested for the first time, marching with her mother on Michigan Avenue. As a young student from the South Side of Chicago, Eva Maria had an unstoppable drive and vision to create change in her city, and she began grassroots organizing. She co-founded Youth for Black Lives to activate youth voices against systemic oppression, but she also saw the need for immediate access to resources and opportunities in her community. She began talking to residents of the South Shore neighborhood in order to build connections with community members and understand how to best serve them. In 2015, when Eva Maria was only a junior in high school, the Free Root Operation was born to intercept poverty induced gun violence, invest in her community, and create resources that were missing. She used her network to grow FRO from idea to impact. 

Eva Maria has received numerous awards for her community work, including the Reebok Human Rights Award, the Pioneer Award from the Chicago Foundation for Women, Princeton Prize in Race Relations, and the Rising Star award from the DuSable Museum of African American History. In March 2016, she participated in the United Nations’ 60th Annual Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She spoke at the U.N. again in October 2016 for the United Nations' International Day of the Girl Child, performing spoken word during the opening of the event; she also gave a speech during the proceedings. In addition to her work with FRO, Eva Maria is a writer. You can view her contributions to Teen Vogue at


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If you would like to invite Eva Maria to speak at your next event, please visit her website.

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