If High School Musical taught us one thing, it is to not "Stick to the Status Quo" – but rather, pursue what's in your heart. For basketball star Troy Bolton, that one thing theater. For Disney Channel alum Monique Coleman, it is empowering young people to do good. That is why it comes by no surprise that she is a GirlUp Champion, Allstate Foundation #GoodStartsYoung Ambassador and the first ever United Nations Youth Champion for the International Year of Youth.
J-14 caught up with Monique at Disney's "Dream Big, Princess" photography exhibit, which is on display now at the UN Headquarters. In order to support initiatives that empower girls across the world, Disney invested $1 million to the Girl Up campaign through this project. Disney and philanthropy? Talk about being right down Monique's alley.
"For me, it's the intersection of all the things that I really care about. Coming from, obviously, Disney and High School Musical, that was dream come true for me. However, my bigger dream was 'How do I use the platform I've been given with High School Musical to actually be able to make an impact in the world?' My partnership with Girl Up is what gives me the opportunity to do that," she exclusively told us. "This is literally the collision of all my worlds. It's really awesome."
Monique was approached by Girl Up teen advisor Fasica Mersha with a particularly heartwarming story that proves she was making a difference before she even realized it through her HSM character Taylor McKessie.
"I was the first girl that she had seen that looked like her that was the smartest girl in school. To know that I could've been someone's first example of who they could be. The fact that I was going to go off and go to Yale made her believe that she could do or be anything as well," Monique told us.
Monique isn't the only gal who grew up on Disney that has worked with the Girl Up Initiative, a program which strives to unite young girls in changing the world. Demi Lovato recently partnered with them for her Fabletics sportswear collection, and the two Disney icons actually met for the first time at the launch.
"I love the Fabletics line. I think it's great. I love that Demi did that. I know the other artists and actors have gone on trips. I went on a trip, actually," Monique shared with us. "I visited Ethiopia with Girl Up and we visited refugee camps there. I got to experience first hand the work that's being done. I think having that first hand experience, you can take that with you and when you're on red carpets or other events, really share that message."
Aside from visiting Ethiopia with Girl Up, Monique also traveled to 24 countries for six consecutive months to raise awareness and experience the struggles youths face globally.
She told us, "I realized that fame was never going to fill my soul. It was an amazing platform, but it didn't make me feel like I had purpose and meaning. So, traveling the world and really understanding what young people experience and face globally gave me meaning. It made High School Musical matter in an even deeper way."
We just love the fact that – in the midst of all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood – giving back is what motivates Monique the most. In fact, she believes Taylor McKessie would be doing the same exact thing right about now.
"I think that there was some bigger picture going on when I got that part. I was supposed to take that message and carry it out."