2017: The Year of Youth Activists

As 2017 comes to a close, it’s both easy and tempting to look back over the year and focus only on those who dominated the headlines and filled our news feeds. Politicians like President Trump, comedians like Kathy Griffin, football players like Colin Kaepernick, media moguls like Harvey Weinstein, and lawyers like Amal Clooney—are those who most immediately come to mind.

Yet one group that has accomplished incredible feats has remained under the radar and gone largely unnoticed: youth activists.

In 2017, youth across the nation took a remarkable stand for their beliefs and convictions in ways never seen before. Utilizing social media, we found a new platform to voice our opinions and spark civil discussions with our peers. We broke down barriers in our communities and felt empowered to call out injustices wherever we see them: our classrooms, sport fields, communities.

Among all of the teenage activists this year, a few stand out of the crowd for the innovative and groundbreaking way they stood up for their causes.

At just 17, Yara Shahidi, who appeared in ABC’s Black-ish, used her spotlight to illuminate issues that affect today’s girls, launching an organization that encourages high school students to discuss social issues and how they can stand up against them at their schools.

Or what about Marley Dias, who, at just 11 years old was featured by Forbes, spearheaded a national campaign to “collect and donate 1,000 books that feature black girls as the main characters.”

Yet not all of the teens who accomplished remarkable feats this year are also TV stars or social media icons; many of them are just average teenagers who also have remarkable ideas.

For his Eagle Scout project, Blake Deaton, a teen from North Carolina who advocates for students with special needs, received $10,000 from his community to create a space at his school for students with autism—like his own brother—to unwind in and escape the bussyness of the school day.

In December, Drew Black, a 13 year old middle school student, organized coat drives in her community to help the homeless people of her hometown brave the frigid winters of Shawnee, Oklahoma.

And Taylor Richardson, who, at just 14, raised funds to allow low-income girls from 28 states watch Hidden Figures, a movie that inspired her to explore her interest in STEM, a field that is largely male-dominated.

While it is easy to glimpse over the remarkable youth activists of 2017—a year that was dominated by adults—teens like Blake Deaton and Marley Dias both serve as a powerful reminder that America’s youth can also advocate for causes and stand up against injustices. Indeed, although youth activists may not grace the headlines of every news site, they certainly leave a long-lasting fingerprint on their communities.

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