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People of the Year 2015 | Meredith Walker

Meredith Walker has the kind of gregarious personality that makes you feel immediately at ease, which is probably why she’s so good at her job. Walker is the co-creator and executive producer of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, a multi-media platform dedicated to helping teenage girls cultivate their authentic selves. “Change the world by being yourself,” is the Smart Girls motto, and something Walker fully embraces. A Houston native who lived in New York City and Los Angeles before settling in Austin in 2006, she is unapologetically, brilliantly herself — and she’s doing her best to change the world, one middle schooler at a time.

It was working with the respected journalist Linda Ellerbee at Nick News with Linda Ellerbee where Walker first realized her passion for helping people with their own narratives. As producer of the Peabody and Emmy Award winning show, Walker worked to help people share their stories. “It would be painful sometimes,” she remembers, “because I’d be in [places like] someone’s trailer home hearing their story, but it felt so good to have somebody listening to them. And that’s really where I learned the art of letting someone tell their story to you and helping them feel comfortable doing that.”

After Nick News, Walker became the head of the talent department at Saturday Night Live, where she met best friend Amy Poehler. She says: “You know how it is when you just meet that person and you’re like ‘You’re the one. Lets go do something right now.’” During a late night conversation between Poehler and Walker over the horrors of middle school, they realized they had both had someone who was older and acted as a mentor. “Each of those interactions were the times that we felt okay,” Walker explains, “And so we thought, how can we be that for somebody?”

The answer was Smart Girls, which started as Smart Girls at the Party, a web-based show and blog meant to celebrate the “everyday girl.” There’s nothing fancy, and — aside from Poehler’s appearances — nothing Hollywood, about the series, which was launched in 2008 and features a teenage girl or woman (often an Austinite) being interviewed by Poehler about her interests. Each episode ends in a totally dorky, contagious dance party with the whole cast and crew. “We really just wanted [to ask]: ‘What are you interested in in life? Talk about it. What’s it like?’” explains Walker.

In the past seven years, the Smart Girls community has taken off, with Walker at its helm. In October 2014, Smart Girls was acquired by Legendary Entertainment (which also owns Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist Industries and Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry) and the plan is to roll out even more shows. She Said, hosted by comedic duo and real-life fiancées Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher, premiered in November with the two having an honest (and often hilarious) body-positive dialogue about women’s health. It went viral.

Walker, proud owner to two rescue dogs, may be most excited about the new show Heavy Petting, which profiles shelter dogs with celebrity voiceovers. (Also, keep an eye out for Austin Pets Alive! dogs in upcoming episodes.)

It may be called “Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls,” but “Amy and Meredith’s Smart Girls” would make more sense; almost everything on the site is executed, and has the spirit, of the infectiously energetic Walker. “I don’t ask our audience to do something that we haven’t done,” she says. “Whether it’s an Instagram challenge … or jumping in the water on a freezing day, I’ve done every one of them, and if I haven’t already done it, I do it with them.” On any given day, you might find Walker and her executive assistant, Lillian Garza, volunteering in the Austin community, then taking to the site and social media with information to help other smart girls do the same in their own towns.

“Don’t get advice — just get out,” she says. “If you want to build self-esteem don’t talk about it, don’t do a self-esteem workshop, don’t fill out a form, don’t read an article about it … those are all great endeavors but if you really want to have it, you gotta just get it.” Luckily for us, Walker is dedicated to helping us do that, no matter our age.

CREDITS

Photography by Chad Wadsworth | Hair by Jessica Casarez of Lip Service | Makeup by Dolce - Ivy Kim

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