By Melissa Noel

"She Thrives: Black Women Making History Today" puts the spotlight on 10 amazing individuals whose achievements transcend generations, occupations and regions. These women — all leaders in their communities — are truly elevating the conversation around black identity, politics and culture. Meet all of our "She Thrives" honorees here.

Name

Veda Woods

Title

Founder and CEO of the Protect Us Kids Foundation

Age

44

Hometown

Chicago. Lives in Washington, D.C.

Words you live by

"I’m a woman of my word."

Your hero

Michelle Obama

How she thrives

As more children connect over the internet, Veda Woods is dedicated to making sure they have the resources and tools to protect themselves from harm.

She founded the Protect Us Kids Foundation in 2008, with a mission to keep children and teenagers from becoming the victims of online predators. The foundation focuses on spreading awareness about child sex exploitation in cyberspace, specifically within rural and underserved communities around the globe.

“We tailor our awareness training to ensure that we’re being culturally sensitive and we’re meeting the needs of the community, which is important in ensuring that the youth actually have a voice,” Woods told NBCBLK.

The Protect Us Kids Foundation partners with academic institutions, mental and behavioral health professionals and other organizations to research and obtain critical data, as well as identify behavioral and social aspects that can make children more vulnerable to sexual predators. The organization develops resources on internet safety and cybersecurity awareness that can be integrated in school curriculums and works directly with youth to implement them. Protect Us Kids connects with children through its partnerships with organizations already serving vulnerable children, such as foster care programs, refugee programs and child protective services, among other organizations.

Woods is a cybersecurity adviser with more than 22 years of experience in the field, including work in the defense, civil service and intelligence communities. A Chicago native, she says that the adversity she faced growing up on the city’s South Side, as well as the challenges of navigating her own career, inspired her commitment to advocating on behalf of children, and supporting women and minorities in STEM careers.

Woods has a background in technology and initially wanted to go into graphic design. She started out in health care, however, and that distinct skill set led her to a job with the FBI and its pharmaceutical health care fraud team.

“My path into this was very different,” she said. “I wanted to provide services to people, and it evolved into me having a career in cyber. You can come from different facets and disciplines and still make an impact."

In the last year, the nonprofit organization was able to establish a key partnership with the Cybercrimes Support Network and also partner with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as a first time presenter at the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education conference. According to Woods, it was the only organization in attendance with a specific focus on protecting children on the web.

“I’m a huge advocate of providing people with awareness and education so they can help themselves,” Woods said. “The biggest thing that keeps me motivated is the fact that there’s always a need. I have a tendency of looking at not just what’s happening now, but wonder when I’m gone, what’s going to be the impact of what we’ve done on the next generation, especially in the field of cybersecurity.”

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