We don’t give young people enough credit for their compassion, creativity, and can-do attitude. In an effort to protect kids, we tend to dismiss their capabilities and discourage their engagement in issues like xenophobia, climate change, and public policy.
Here are some young people who have made their imprint on the world — and continue to remind adults what’s really important.
1. Malala Yousafzai
The 20-year-old Pakistani activist for female education made headlines when a Taliban gunman attempted to murder her as she was on her way to school in 2012. Despite these terrifying events, she has persevered. She co-authored the international best-seller I am Malala, was the subject of the documentary He Named Me Malala, and the youngest-ever recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she continues her activism for young women pursuing education. Just a few days ago, she visited Iraq to meet girls who have lived under and been displaced by ISIS.
2. Marley Dias
Like many of us, Dias was sick and tired of reading content that only told the stories of white boys (and their dogs). That’s why in November 2015, she launched #1000BlackGirlBooks in order to collect and donate 1000 books that feature Black girls as a main character. Today, the 14 year old has 9,000 books and even her own book deal. Marley Dias Gets It Done — And So Can You will be a “keep-it-real” guide for young kids to make their own dreams come true and will be released in Spring 2018.
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny aka Little Miss Flint
This nine-year-old powerhouse has been a face for her native Flint, Mich. throughout their three year long on-going water crisis. She’s called out former president Barack Obama and current President Donald Trump respectively on not doing their part to fix the severe environmental issues in her city. She has spoken at the March for Science in Washington D.C. and refuses to let anyone forget that Flint still does not have clean water.
Raised in Aztec tradition, Roske-Martinez has always had a strong connection to Earth and has dedicated his life to protecting it. From the time he was six, he has been involved in speaking engagements around the world, from the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. He is the youth director of the nonprofit Earth Guardians, expresses his creative energy as a hip-hop artist, and has done a great deal of work in his community of Boulder, Colo.
5. Sophie Cruz
Upon visiting Los Angeles in September 2015, Pope Francis had one unexpected encounter with then five-year-old Cruz. Upon getting through the barricade and being escorted to the Pontiff, she handed him a letter that detailed her fears of her parents (both undocumented immigrants) being deported. Earlier this year, Cruz appeared on stage at the Women’s March on Washington with her parents to deliver an inspiring speech of of love and hope.
From the time that she was able to speak, Jennings made it as clear as she possibly could — she was a girl. As the youngest person to become a national transgender figure, the now 16-year-old native Floridian rose to fame in 2007 after an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20. Since then, she’s co-written a children’s book called I Am Jazz, detailing her life as a transgender child, co-founded the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation to assist transgender youth, and starred in a reality television series for TLC called I Am Jazz.
7. Payal Jangid
At the age of 14, Jangid became the leader of the Child Parliament for change in her village, Rajasthan. Alongside her peers, she works to ensure that young girls in her country have the right to education, speaks out against child marriage, and encourages a healthy parent-child relationship. In 2015, she was one of 12 other children who were chosen to meet former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama during their visit to India.