Story by Leslie Barker
Brittany Merrill Underwood’s life changed – completely, thoroughly, astonishingly – the summer she was 19, an age that now seems head-shakingly young. “I was the most selfish, spoiled SMU sorority girl,” she says on a recent March afternoon, sitting outside Akola, the store in Snider Plaza that fulfills a dream she didn’t know she had. “I was going to parties and trying to show up in class. My heart was empty; now it’s full.”
A dozen years later, she’s long ago lost count of the times she’s crisscrossed the globe. And how could she possibly number the lives of women she’s touched and changed for the better? Yahoo named her “Person of the Year” in 2014; during those same 12 months, she was asked to join the elite mentoring class for the Laura Bush Women’s Initiative. Clothing manufacturer Levi Strauss honored her as one of 50 women internationally who have changed the political, cultural and spiritual shape of the future. She’s made appearances on Katie Couric’s show as well as on CNN’s Young People Who Rock. She received SMU’s Emerging Leader Award, the Dallas Women’s Foundation Young Leader Award and was a finalist for the 2016 Global Business & Interfaith Peace Award from the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation. Most recently, she received a $75,000 United Way award in Dallas.