Malcolm Mitchell receiving award at 20th Anniversary Promise Night

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Seven Young Leaders Making Black History Today

Young people have often been at the forefront of social progress in America. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, for instance, youth worked to desegregate schools, register black voters, and protest systemic oppression.

Today is no different.

Young people across the country are improving media representation for people of color, promoting literacy education, speaking out against bullying, and much more. In honor of Black History Month, we compiled a list of seven African-American young leaders who are raising their voices, advocating for their causes, and fighting for a better future.

1. Mari Copeny, 10

In 2016, eight-year old Mari Copeny (known as “Little Miss Flint”) wrote to President Obama requesting a meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss the water crisis in her home town of Flint, Michigan. Instead, Obama went to her, visiting Flint and drawing national attention to the public health emergency.

In the two years since, Mari has donated more than 1,000 backpacks and school supplies to Flint’s schoolchildren through the #PackYourBackChallenge. She has also worked with the United Nations’ Girl Up Initiative and is the youngest Women’s March Youth Ambassador.

 

Ultimately, she hopes that her activism will inspire others. As she told Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, “When people see me, a 10-year-old helping others, they sometimes want to be able to help others too.”

2. Nyeeam Hudson, 12

At 12 years old, Nyeeam Hudson has already travelled the world delivering motivational speeches to other kids, offering support to victims of bullying, building up confidence, and teaching self-love.

 

On Instagram (where he goes by the name King Nahh), Hudson delivers brief, uplifting messages to his more than 200,000 followers. Last year, he published the book “We Are All Kings: A Motivational Guide for Young Men” with the goal “to motivate and inspire all young men across the world and let them know that anything is possible if they just believe in themselves.”

3. Marley Dias, 13

When Marley Dias was 11, she couldn’t keep her nose out of a book—but she was sick of reading story after story about white boys. In an interview with NPR, Dias explained  how that frustration inspired her to start the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, aimed at finding 1,000 books with black girls as protagonists. The campaign collects and donates books and works with educators to discover and promote more diversity in reading.

 

To date, Dias has collected over 9,000 books. She told Forbes, “I’m working to create a space where it feels easy to include and imagine black girls and make black girls like me the main characters of our lives.”

4. Grace Dolan-Sandrino, 17

In eighth grade, Grace Dolan-Sandrino walked into school dressed to express the way she felt on the inside: as a girl. “Everyone was looking,” she wrote in The Washington Post. “They were laughing, making jokes, and pointing—but I kept walking. I was living my truth, and I was happy.”

"Nobody's free until everybody's free."

–Fannie Lou Hamer

Now in high school, Dolan-Sandrino has become a nationally-recognized advocate for LGBTQ youth of color. She co-founded Youth Blackout DC, an organization that aims to amplify student voices and helped organize thousands of D.C. high school students to protest in a city-wide march. Under the Obama administration, she served as Ambassador to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and helped to create that administration’s federal guidance for protecting trans students from discrimination.

5. Yara Shahidi, 17

Yara Shahidi wants to prove that “giving back is not just something that you do as an adult.” She first came into the national spotlight for her roll on ABC’s Black-ish. Since then, in addition to earning the starring role on the ABC spinoff show Grown-ish, she’s used her platform to establish herself as a strong advocate for diversity in Hollywood and girls’ education across the country.

 

In partnership with the Young Women’s Leadership Network, she launched a mentoring initiative called Yara’s Club. The organization connects young women, invites participants to talk about topics that matter to them, and encourages social activism. She has also worked with Michelle Obama on the Let Girls Learn initiative.

6. Tony Weaver, 23

Founder and CEO of Weird Enough Productions, Tony Weaver works to correct the misrepresentation of young men of color in media. A Forbes 30 Under 30 winner, Weaver’s short films and web comics have been making waves in media. By offering positive representations of black men, Weaver aims to combat all the issues that negative public perception can lead to: economic disadvantage, police aggression, longer jail sentences, and a distorted sense of black achievement.

Caption: The first video in a six-part series by Weird Enough Productions called “Shades and Hues: The 21st Century Black Experience”

In addition to creating its own content, Weird Enough Productions works on media literacy education, empowering youth to create projects that fulfill their own artistic ambitions.

7. Malcolm Mitchell, 24

Despite the Super Bowl ring he earned with the New England Patriots last year, NFL receiver Malcolm Mitchell says that one of his proudest achievements involves reading. His firm belief that reading enables children to reach their full potential led Mitchell to found the Read With Malcolm Youth Literacy Initiative.

General Colin and Alma Powell stand with Malcom Mitchell as he accepts his Promise Hero award at Promise Night. Photo credit: ©2017 ImageLinkPhoto.com
General Colin and Alma Powell stand with Malcom Mitchell as he accepts his Promise Hero award at Promise Night. Photo credit: ©2017 ImageLinkPhoto.com

The organization aims to “transform the lives of young students through literacy,” particularly in households and schools where students have less opportunity and fewer resources to read.

Young people around the country are working to build, heal, and empower their communities.  Let’s support those efforts. Please join us in uplifting their work by sharing their story on social media and using hashtag #Recommit2Kids. 

For more examples of youth activism, check out How Young People Are Fighting Back Against Intolerance After Charlottesville and Five Young Leaders Who Inspire Us…And What Inspires Them.