Youth Activists Who Are Changing the World

by Julia Pimentel, via

Excerpted from, 15 Young Activists Who Are Changing the World

When we hear of examples of the great activists of the world, whether that’s Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa, they can sound otherworldly. Their contributions to society were great, but they are venerated in a way that strips them of their humanity and makes us feel like we’ll never be able to live up to them, no matter how much we want to. But that’s simply not true. All it takes is one idea and the right mix of determination and willpower to effect change at the local level. Start with one thing you’re passionate about, and find small, local ways to organize and find solutions to the problem.

That’s what the 15 people on this list did—but the catch is that some of them started as early as six years old. They’re here to prove that no matter the obstacle, and no matter your age, you can work hard and make sure that you leave behind a world that is just a little bit better than when you found it. Use this list to inspire you to either start your own non-profit, or simply find local organizations that you can help. After all, with the way the world going nowadays, the teens really are our only hope.

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez

This 17-year-old has been in the business of trying to save the world sinceage six. His powerful speech at the United Nations in 2015—when he was just fifteen years old—cut straight to heart of the biggest threat of the world’s inability to take meaningful action on climate change: “What’s at stake right now is the existence of my generation,” he said. Two years prior, in 2013, he received the United States Community Service Award and served on President Obama’s Youth Council. He also works as the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, a worldwide conservation organization (that he founded!) that brings together activists and artists with an environmental streak. He’s also taking his activism to court: he’s one of the 21 people who have sued the federal government and Donald Trump for failing to act on climate change.

Sonita Alizadeh

Sonita Alizadeh has taken a slightly less traditional but no less effective route to fighting against the patriarchal policies of forced marriages in her home country of Afghanistan: rap. Alizadeh was almost married twice, once at 10 years old and again at 16, before she rebelled by releasing a rap video titled “Brides For Sale” about the experience of women being sold into marriage by their families. It was a huge risk—for starters, it is illegal for women to sing publicly in Iran, where she was living by that time. However, it paid off: the song went viral, and she was able to get a scholarship to finish her studies at a U.S. high school. She continues to perform her powerful brand of rap and inspire a new generation of women to rebel against the outdated and cruel tradition of child brides in her home country.

Payal Jangid

Payla Jangid has the ultimate inspirational story. After escaping child slavery in India, Jangid became a children’s rights advocate, and is currently the leader of her village’s Child Parliament, an organization that holds meetings to discuss “various issues like lack of separate toilets for girls in schools and the need to stop child marriage.” She advocates for the importance of education, even going “door to door” explaining to parents that children need a supportive environment to grow. When she was just 12, she met Barack and Michelle Obama when they visited India in 2015, and also met with Kailash Satyarthi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 with Malala Yousafzai. Of her cause, she has said: “In our society education is not given much importance but it is my duty to explain to the older generation how schooling is very much needed. We formed [the Child Parliament] to speak about the problems faced by our peers and why we need school.”

Kelvin Doe

Kelvin was just six when the notoriously violent civil war in his country of Sierra Leone officially ended, and despite his young age and lack of traditional engineering education, he quickly became one of the country’s leading technological inventors. When he was 11, he looked through garbage for scrap electronics that could help fix local problems. At 13, he started making his own batteries by wrapping acid, soda and metal in a tin cup with tape to help power lights in people’s homes. He built a generator out of homemade or rescued spare parts for his community, and used it to power a community radio station that he also built from recycled materials. He became the station’s DJ Focus, and his friends became the journalists and station managers. “They call me DJ Focus because I believe if you focus, you can do an invention perfectly,” Doe said in a video. In 2012, when he was 15, Doe became the youngest ever “visiting practitioner” with the MIT International Development Initiative, where he had the chance to present his inventions to MIT students, took part in research, and even taught engineering students at Harvard. His mentor, David Sengeh, a PhD student at the MIT media lab, said: “In Sierra Leone, other young people suddenly feel they can be like Kelvin.” In 2016, Doe became an Honorary Board member of EMERGENCY USA, which works to provide medical and surgical care to the victims of war and poverty.

Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Alex Wind, Jaclyn Corin, Cameron Kasky, and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman shooting

Something different happened after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14. Instead of the usual cynical narrative of thoughts and prayers and a total lack of political action, the students spoke out. Senior Emma Gonzalez had a particularly powerful speech, in which she “called BS” on all the typical narratives that are so closely associated with gun control in this country. She then brought that same intensity to a CNN Town Hall, in which she knew exactly how to question the NRA’s Dana Loetsch about her contradictory and outdated beliefs about guns. Another student, David Hogg, who has been equally outspoken in his fight for gun control, became the target of a disgusting and surprisingly prevalent conspiracy theory that he was a “crisis actor.” He squashed those theories live on CNN with the grace and steadfastness of a true hero. As a group, the students who survived the shooting have made many promises: theirs will be the last school shooting. In an effort to keep people’s attention, they have organized the March For Our Lives, a nationwide demonstration on March 24 that will demand change from Washington D.C. All of the students from Parkland who are involved in the gun control movement are taking a distinctly 2018 approach to their activism: they’re active on Twitter, where they roast the ignorant politicians and conservatives who dare defy them into oblivion. More importantly, they know that their true power lies in voting, and they are actively working to encourage everyone to vote out politicians who think it’s more important for people to have military style weapons than for high school students to survive a day at school. It’s one of the most inspiring stories to come out of 2018, and thankfully, it’s just getting started.

For 10 more stories of amazing youth activists, read the complete article here