The legal age to be able to vote is 18 and other rights are given to people at ages 16, 19 or 21 depending on where they live. The young people mentioned in this article didn’t wait to be a certain age to follow their dreams and to fight for change.
Marley Dias, 15 Years Old
Marley Dias was an avid reader as a little girl. She devoured book after book until she discovered a pattern. Most of these stories were about white boys and their dogs. Marley decided that there wasn’t enough variety in children’s stories, so in November 2015, she launched a campaign called #1000BlackGirlBooks. By 2017 she had accumulated more than 9,000 books and even wrote one of her own. Marley Dias Gets It Done: And So Can You! was published in 2018 and it explores activism, social justice, volunteerism, equity and inclusion, and using social media for good.
In the last few years, she’s appeared on CBS This Morning, The View, and has even spoken at the United State of Women Summit. She saw the lack of diversity in literature as more than just an oversight. Describing it to her mother at just 10 years old, she said, “There wasn’t really any freedom for me to read what I wanted.” In addition to all her other accomplishments at such a young age, she is also the host and executive producer of Netflx show about books called Bookmarks.
Nicholas Lowinger, 17 Years Old
Nicholas Lowinger won the Youth Award in 2015 for his work and founding of the Gotta Have Soul Foundation. Nicholas met two siblings, a girl and a boy, who were homeless and unable to attend school regularly. They had one pair of shoes between them so they took turns wearing them to school every other day. Nicholas was heartbroken and gave the boy the shoes off his own feet. But one kind gesture wasn’t enough, he also founded the Gotta Have Soul Foundation in 2010. In the past 10 years, he has put shoes on over 100,000 children in homeless shelters across every state in the US.
Nicholas keeps working on his goal to give homeless children a better life. He believes that they should have the same opportunities as their peers and shouldn’t miss opportunities that will help them have a better life. Nicholas takes donations and shoe requests from all over the country. If he can’t find the perfect shoe, he raises money to buy it. He truly cares about every child he helps and when possible, he even delivers them in person.Nicholas understands what so many of us fail to see, a simple thing that most take for granted, like a clean functional pair of shoes, can change someone’s life.
— Gotta Have Sole Foun (@gottahavesol) March 15, 2016
Trisha Prabhu, 19 Years Old
Trisha Prabhu is barely a teenager today, however her inspiring journey began at the age of 13. Her breakthrough moment came when she heard of the death of a 12-year-old girl from Florida. Rebecca, like Trisha and many others, was a victim of cyberbullying for over a year and a half. Unable to take it anymore, Rebecca committed suicide, leaving Trisha shocked, heartbroken and outraged. This led Trisha to create ReThink, a technology that detects online hate and stops it before anyone gets hurt. Her efforts were recognized by President Obama in 2016, leading to Trisha presenting at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
ReThink is great because it flags hateful speech to the person about to use it online. Trisha’s research shows that 93% of the time, young people chose not to post after being reminded by the software. Her work has been featured on Shark Tank and even won the Harvard University’s President’s Global Innovation Challenge & Harvard College’s i3 entrepreneurial Challenge. Trisha was the first person to win the prize as a Harvard College freshman. Even more importantly, her efforts have helped protect countless people from online bullying every day.
We are so honored to announce that ReThink has been named 1 of 10 inaugural @ElevatePrize winners! We're incredibly excited to join this powerful community of changemakers, and for the journey ahead. Together, we can build a better Internet!#elevateprize #awakenthehero pic.twitter.com/MyWExDul4S
— ReThink (@rethinkwords) October 19, 2020
Rishab Jain, 16 Years Old
In October 2018, Rishab Jain was named America’s Top Young Scientist for his award-winning tool which harnesses artificial intelligence to improve radiotherapy for pancreatic cancer patients. That would be impressive no matter who discovered it, but what makes it almost unbelievable is that Rishab was only 13 when he invented it. Since 2019, Rishab has attended Westview High School in Portland, Oregon. After receiving his title of ‘America’s Top Young Scientist’, Rishab has been named amongst Time’s 25 Most Influential Teens, invited on the GMA Day show and written about in Teen Vogue as well as other media.
Today Rishab is 16 and keeps working on other inventions to help patients with pancreatic cancer. Rishab is also a promoter of ‘STEAM’: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. He has put on various STEAM-related workshops in his community to help foster the interest in younger children. Rishab has also been an active supporter of pancreatic cancer awareness, having called for more research regarding this specific type of cancer. In February 2020, Rishab spread awareness for curiosity and pancreatic cancer at the TEDxGateway 2020 event.
— Rishab Jain (@RishabJainK) June 3, 2020
Melati and Isabel Wijsen, 16 and 18 Years Old
This dynamic sister duo saw the plastic bag problem on their home island and began working towards a solution. Melati and Isabel Wijsen were 12 and 10 years old when they began a campaign to rid Bali of single-use plastic bags titled Bye Bye Plastic Bags. In 2013, the campaign started off slow. In order to gain public attention, Melati and Isabel staged a dawn to dusk hunger strike in 2016. The purpose of the hunger strike was to meet with I Made Mangku Pastika, the governor of Bali at the time. They succeeded in meeting with him and eventually got him to sign an order to ban styrofoam, plastic bags and straws from the island effective in 2018.
Bali is part of the island nation of Indonesia, which is the world’s second biggest polluter when it comes to marine plastic, trailing only China. So, their accomplishment to ban plastic was truly spectacular. They have gone on to speak at TED Talks and they continue their environmental activism. They spread awareness through school and community workshops. The organized massive beach cleanup campaigns, all the while drawing international attention and that of local politicians too. In addition to efforts in Bali, the Indonesian government has pledged to do its part in eliminating the scourge of plastic pollution. It has committed to reducing plastic pollution by 70 percent by 2025 and the sisters will keep a close eye to make sure they do as promised.
Muhammad Najem, 17 Years Old
So many people are silenced out of fear of dictators and dangerous politicians. Malala Yousafzai was a great role model who was politically active from an incredibly young age. Similarly, Muhammad Najem decided to take on a unfair regime in his home country of Syria. Muhammad’s YouTube channel reads, “I will tell the world that a dictator named Bashar al-Assad killed his people and destroyed his country.I will ask the world for justice in Syria because of what Bashar al-Assad committed by killing the people and putting them in the prisons for decades.”
This young man began reporting on the situation in Syria when he was just 15 years old. Despite understanding the danger and consequences of his actions, he was determined to show the world the truth. Now a refugee in Turkey, Muhammad is praised for documenting the terrors in Syria. Nora Neus, a producer at CNN, featured him on Anderson Cooper 360, during the broadcast of February 21, 2018 to have his story heard. Muhammad shows the world what it is like to be brave and make a difference by raising awareness in a dire situation.
Asia Newson, 16 Years Old
Asia Newson was just five years old when she watched her father Michael sell candles door-to-door in Detroit. She decided she wanted to learn the trade and began creating candles and learning how to pitch in order to make sales before she even started school. Asia is a co-founder and CEO of Super Business Girl and is known as Detroit’s youngest entrepreneur. In 2016, she projected to make $70,000 and almost met her goal. However, what makes her such an amazing person isn’t just her ability to sell candles – it’s her work in her community.
In addition to running her own business at such a young age, Asia wanted to create power and possibility across an entire community. By 2017, Asia had trained 40 other young kids in Detroit to be entrepreneurs themselves. Since then, Asia continues to grow her business and has appeared on TV, including in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres. Asia continues to inspire other children her age and everyone in her community. Asia hopes to give other people the freedom to have their own business and follow their dreams.
Desmond Napoles, 13 Years Old
Desmond Napoles is an American teenage drag performer, fashion model, actor and LGBTQ activist, known by his stage name Desmond is Amazing. Desmond was inspired by drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and began fashioning household items into dresses and wigs. He is widely known as an activist and one of the world’s youngest drag queens. Desmon is only 13 years old but continues to make waves in the community by raising awareness and being amazing, as his stage name suggests. He even wrote a children’s book that discusses the history of the LGBTQ community.
Desmond and his family were frequently criticized for allowing Desmond to perform in adult settings. Despite this, Desmond continues to be Amazing. He has become a public speaker on LGBTQ issues: his public appearances include both traditional drag performance and LGBTQ advocacy. Desmojnd identifies as genderfluid and gay. In 2017 he received the Marsha P. Johnson ‘Don’t be Outraged, Be Outrageous’ Award, in 2018 he was named to the Dazed100 most influential people shaping youth culture. Desmond inspires people to be themselves and fight for their rights to be who they are.
Haile Thomas, 19 Years Old
Haile Thomas has been a health activist and vegan food influencer for over six years. The Jamaican-American is an international speaker as well as the youngest Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in the United States. In 2012, Haile created one of the winning entries in the first White House Kid’s State Dinner. Her salad of quinoa, black beans and corn was picked by the host, Michelle Obama, as part of her Let’s Move! campaign. Haile then got to introduce the First Lady at the 2013 Kids’ State Dinner and also joined her at the 2013 State of the Union Address.
Today, Haile is a young health activist as well as a vegan food and lifestyle influencer. She is also the founder and CEO of the nonprofit HAPPY, which stands for Healthy Active Positive Purposeful Youth. Haile is a big proponent of a plant-based diet and lifestyle. Research shows that when done right, a vegan diet is incredibly healthy as well as good for the environment. Thomas has given talks for TEDx, Deepak Chopra’s Sages and Scientists Symposium, The Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Conference, Partnership for a Healthier America Summit, and the YWCA Women’s Leadership Conference.
Kevin J. Patel, 19 Years Old
Kevin J. Patel is also a big environmental activist and has been for over six years. Kevin is Los Angeles-based climate and environmental justice activist. He is part of many organizations including Fridays for Future and Youth Climate Strike. Most importantly, he is the founder and executive director of OneUpAction that works on doing direct projects within the community to get everyone involved. Kevin has spoken publicly about environmental issues and has presented on TED Talk.
Unfortunately, Kevin’s passion began with a health issue. One day in class, he felt heart palpitations and he didn’t know why they were happening. Some research led him to realize that it was related to air and smog pollution and he wasn’t the only one suffering. Not only is the pollution an issue but there are other environmental concerns that cause asthma, heart problems and even cancer. Kevin saw that his community was in particular trouble since they live in a food dessert. Many of his peers were not getting healthy, organic food and few understood what organic or non-GMO foods were. Kevin continues his journey to raise awareness and change policies to make his community and planet healthier.
These young people are all great examples that we all share this planet and it is up to each and every one of us to make it a better place. Whether this means documenting the atrocities committed by a dictator, teaching locals to start businesses or encouraging people to live a healthier lifestyle. We can all learn from these young people who were able to use their skills to make a difference.
Photo: Shutterstock / Edited by: Martina Advaney
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