In 2019, Teens Helped Prove Gen Z Is Unstoppable

From activist Greta Thunberg to actress and producer Marsai Martin, here’s a look at some of the many young adults who showed the kids are ― yes, still ― all right.
Climate activists participate in a student-led climate change march in Los Angeles on Nov. 1.
Climate activists participate in a student-led climate change march in Los Angeles on Nov. 1.

If 2019 proved anything, it’s this: Never underestimate the youths.

Thanks to Generation Z ― which Pew Research Center defines as those born after the year 1996 who are 22 or younger by the end of 2019 ― this year was a little more bright.

From their wokeness on social media to their on-the-ground activism, the generation of young adults helped elevate issues often ignored or not taken as seriously by older generations (most notably: climate change).

As the decade comes to an end and millennials age into their late 20s and 30s, this next generation is showing their might in a variety of ways.

Here’s a look at some of the many notable teens and young adults who showed the kids are ― yes, still ― all right.

1. Greta Thunberg & Her Hundreds Of Thousands Of Friends

Greta Thunberg holds a sign with writing in Swedish that says, "School strike for the climate" as she attends a climate march, in Turin, Italy, in December.
Greta Thunberg holds a sign with writing in Swedish that says, "School strike for the climate" as she attends a climate march, in Turin, Italy, in December.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg became the voice of the climate change movement this year.

The 16-year-old first drew attention to the cause after going on strike last year when Sweden experienced its hottest summer on record. For weeks, Thunberg sat alone outside the country’s parliament, holding a sign that read “School strike for climate” to demand politicians enact policies more in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Of course, now Thunberg is far from alone. An estimated 1.4 million young people in more than 100 countries went on strike from school March 15, sparked by Thunberg’s Fridays for Future movement. As HuffPost’s Chris D’Angelo wrote in April, youths around the world are now rising to the climate challenge.

Thunberg has met with a variety of people including actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio and Pope Francis. She’s taken part in United Nations climate summits and spoken to world leaders and policymakers at the World Economic Forum; she’s joined countless environmental protests; she’s sailed across the Atlantic Ocean aboard a zero-emissions racing boat; and she’s taken a stand against climate change deniers and outspoken haters (including President Donald Trump).

Her activism has also inspired people from older generations, including Jane Fonda (“I have not met Greta Thunberg, but Greta Thunberg changed my life,” Fonda said at Glamour’s Women of the Year awards), to devote themselves to the cause.

Thunberg was also recognized as Time’s Person of the Year, making her the youngest person to receive the honor in its 92-year history.

2. The Parkland Activists

In February of 2018, a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 dead at the hand of a former student. The tragedy led to a massive, student-led anti-gun-violence movement known as March for Our Lives.

Run by survivors of the Parkland shooting ― including David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, Cameron Kasky and Alex Wind ― the activist coalition March for Our Lives has worked hard in the last two years to urge lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws.

It has gone beyond posting outrage on social media (though it did create the #NeverAgain movement hashtag on social media). Last year, the students participated in CNN’s town hall, met with lawmakers in their home state of Florida, staged a protest outside the White House and participated in a “listening session” hosted by Trump.

This year, the group released its own gun control plan ― called “A Peace Plan for a Safer America” ― with the goal of cutting in half the number of gun deaths and injuries over the next 10 years.

It also teamed up with Giffords, a gun control group co-founded by former Arizona congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords ― to host a Democratic presidential forum dedicated to addressing gun violence in America.

The forum, held in October in Las Vegas and moderated by MSNBC’s Craig Melvin, drew in nine of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Vice President Joe Biden.

3. Marsai Martin

Marsai Martin attends the 2019 Variety Power of Young Hollywood event at h club Los Angeles on Aug. 6.
Marsai Martin attends the 2019 Variety Power of Young Hollywood event at h club Los Angeles on Aug. 6.
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Marsai Martin rose to fame in her role as Diane in the ABC comedy “Black-ish.” But this year, the 15-year-old added another big accomplishment to her resume: executive producer.

Earlier this year, she starred in “Little” alongside Regina Hall and Issa Rae, and served as the film’s executive producer. It didn’t take long for Universal Pictures, which distributed the comedy, to recognize her talent.

In February, months before the film’s April release, Universal announced it had inked a “first-look” production deal with Genius Productions, Martin’s company.

“Working with emerging talent is a cornerstone of Universal’s overall slate strategy and Marsai is a star on the rise,” Universal Pictures president Peter Cramer said in a statement to Variety. “She is not only tremendously talented in front of the camera, but offers a unique perspective as a creator and producer that will resonate with all audiences. We look forward to moviegoers getting to see how brilliant she is in ‘Little’ and watching her evolve as a filmmaker here at Universal.”

“Little” made more than $40 million at the box office domestically, according to Box Office Mojo, which tracks earnings.

Next up: Martin will produce “Queen,” a comedy penned by TV writer Camilla Blackett, known for “Fresh Off the Boat.”

“Hollywood should pay attention to this next generation,” Martin told Fast Company. “We have a voice, and we want to be heard.”

4. Billie Eilish

Earlier this year, musician Billie Eilish made Grammy history at age 17 with a whopping six Grammy nominations in the “big four” categories.

The rising pop star was also named Billboard’s 2019 Woman of the Year, the youngest recipient to be honored with the title.

Eilish’s “ability to speak to the Gen-Z population, making teens and young adults feel accepted in today’s society has quickly allowed Eilish to grow to the top of the charts, breaking the mold for this generation with her electric hair-color and sharp attitude,” Hannah Karp, Billboard’s editorial director, said in a statement announcing the news.

She also has been an outspoken advocate for various causes. When she appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” she teamed up with host Woody Harrelson to film a PSA about climate change. She also worked with the Seize the Awkward campaign to film a mental health PSA.

“It doesn’t make you weak to ask for help,” she says in the video, which empowers young adults to talk to their friends about their mental health. “It doesn’t. It doesn’t make you weak to ask for a friend, to go to a therapist. It shouldn’t make you feel weak to ask anyone for help.”

Now, Eilish ― who turned 18 this month ―is getting more involved politically ahead of the 2020 election.

“I’m pretty worried about [2020],” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I think stupid Trump is probably going to get reelected, and that makes my heart break. You know, some people just love horrible people. It’s weird.”

To help increase youth voter turnout, Eilish told the Times she plans to bring voter registration and eco-activism booths for Global Citizen and Greenpeace to her shows.

5. ‘Desmond Is Amazing’

Desmond Napoles, known by his drag name Desmond Is Amazing, is among the growing wave of young drag queens in the U.S.

“I would define myself as an inspirational drag kid, but if I had one word [to describe myself] I think it would be ‘amazing,’” Napoles told Reuters in an interview.

The model, a New York native, has also become an LGBTQ activist and inspiration to other young kids.

This year, he was featured in a Pride campaign for Converse. He’s also walked at New York Fashion Week.

Though he faces online harassment, including people calling child protective services to report him and his family, Napoles doesn’t let it get him down.

“You know, I think they’re just jealous of how fabulous I am,” he told Reuters.

6. Malala Yousafzai

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai poses for photographs during the Education and Development G-7 ministers summit in Paris in July.
Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai poses for photographs during the Education and Development G-7 ministers summit in Paris in July.

Malala Yousafzai, now 22, became one of the most famous teenagers in history after surviving an assassination attempt by the Taliban and becoming an outspoken advocate for girls’ education.

In 2014, she became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate at age 17. She also wrote a book and founded a nonprofit, the Malala Fund.

Now, she continues her activism while also studying at Oxford University.

“The last decade was a decade of youth activism, but the next one is going to be about youth change-making, and that’s what gives me hope,” she told Teen Vogue, which featured her on its December 2019 cover celebrating a decade of youths rising.

7. Mari Copeny, AKA ‘Little Miss Flint’

Twelve-year-old Amariyanna Copeny, who goes by Mari, is not even a teen yet.

But the Flint, Michigan, native has already made her mark as an important voice of her generation. In 2016, she made headlines after writing a letter to then-President Barack Obama asking him to help fix the Flint water crisis.

Since then, she has used the spotlight to increase her advocacy, leveraging her massive social media following to raise awareness and doing on-the-ground work in her community (including holding water distribution events for Flint residents in need of clean water).

She’s also been outspoken about Trump, who she said “was not so very nice to me at all” when they met in April of 2017.

8. Woke TikTokers

TikTok ― a video-sharing social network platform ― has primarily been used for posting lip sync, dance and challenge videos. However, countless users (the bulk of whom are young) are increasingly also using it to share videos that spread awareness about what’s going on around the world.

Recently, for example, some on TikTok have used the hashtag “Uighur” to make videos about members of the Muslim ethnic minority who are being held in detention facilities in the Chinese region of Xinjiang.

The platform, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has been accused of censoring content criticizing the Chinese government. According to a recent NBC News report, the hashtag “Uighur” “has been viewed more than 154,000 times and the alternative spelling ‘Uyghur’ has been viewed more than 869,000 times” on the platform.

This year, young users also used the platform to: stand in solidarity with their teachers on strike at Clark County School District in Nevada; make videos reacting to Trump’s impeachment; and joke about Democratic presidential candidates (notably, videos roasting Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg have become very popular).