Changing the world while growing up

Aoife McMahon

While it’s common for us to start to hear from youth activists less as they grow up and head to college, it’s a comfort to know most of them are still out there fighting for what they believe in. 

We only need to look at Greta Thunberg to see that people and the media have a fascination with youth activists. There has never been a better time for young people to start getting involved, become activists and inspiring real change. But what happens when those teenagers start to reach their twenties? 

At the age of just 15, Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for standing up for herself and other girls in Pakistan. From a young age, Yousafzai has fought to ensure girls have the right to go to school. She spoke out about equality in education at as young as eleven years old, when she visited her local press club with her father.  After which she started writing an anonymous blog about living in Pakistan under the growing influence of the Taliban.

After Yousafzai recovered, she continued being a prominent activist in the fight for the right to an education, co-wrote a book entitled “I am Malala” that documents her experience and eventually went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. 

Now at the age of 22, Yousafzai is still an activist for female education. The charity her and her dad has set up in 2013 continues to help young girls access education. In 2018, Yousafzai said her goal has never changed; everyone deserves an education. 

That same year, Yousafzai wrote another book entitled “We Are Displaced: True Stories of Refugee’s Lives.” The book features two parts, the first is called “I Am Displaced” and is about her own story of being forced to leave Pakistan and move to England and the second is called “We Are Displaced”, which focuses on nine other people who have fled their home countries. The book was met with great praise and even featured on The New York Times’ bestseller list in the “Young Adult Hardcover” section.

In order to further her charity’s goal of ensuring 12 years of free, safe and quality education for every girl, Yousafzai donated all the profits from the book to the Malala Fund. The Malala Fund has since teamed up with Apple, and they hope with their support they will help more than 100,000 girls access secondary education.

Unlike some other youth activists, Yousafzai said she has no interest in becoming a politician. In an interview with David Letterman, she was asked “Would you ever want to hold a political position?”, she replied “Me? No”.

One youth activist who has expressed an interest in getting into politics is David Hogg. He is one of the survivors of the school shooting that took place in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Valentine’s day in 2018, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire in the school killing 17 students and members of the faculty. The survivors immediately began speaking out for gun control reform. These brave students include Hogg, Cameron Kasky, and Emma Gonzáles. 

Along with their classmates, they organised a demonstration called “March for Our Lives” in support of legislation to prevent gun violence in the United States. It took place in Washington D.C. in March 2018 and has inspired over 800 more events across the US and around the world.

In the short two years since the shooting, Hogg has lead the widely attended “March for Our Lives” protest and has written a book about the shooting with his younger sister, Lauren, entitled “#NeverAgain: A New Generation Draws the Line.” This is another New York Times bestseller from a young activist and is a guide to the #NeverAgain movement that also details the events on the day of the shooting and the aftermath of the tragedy.  

In August 2018, Hogg announced that when he reaches 25, he is planning on running to become a member of the United States’ House of Representatives.

Hogg is not alone in expressing his interest in politics since the Parkland shooting. His classmate and fellow activist, Kasky, has been very vocal on his opinions on the 2020 presidential election. He endorsed Andrew Yang in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries after he announced he was fed up with the same nonsense that’s been failing the people for generations and he believed Yang offered solutions to these problems. However, he has since thrown his support behind Bernie Sanders as Yang dropped out of the race.

González is another activist to come from the Parkland shooting. She is best known for her powerful speech at the “March for Our Lives” event where she named all 17 victims and then stood silently for over four minutes. The speech lasted the same amount of time as the Parkland shooting. González has continued speaking out for gun control on her social media platforms and at rallies around America. She has also been influential in getting students to register to vote so that their voices can be heard.

As youth activists get older, the public seems to lose their fascination with them, and we tend to hear about their work a lot less. Just because it’s not as widely reported on doesn’t mean they aren’t still there, working tirelessly for the causes they have felt strongly about from a very young age. 

Aoife McMahon

Image credit:FibonaccieBlue