Allyson Carpenter isn’t letting her age get in the way of becoming politically involved in Washington, D.C. At 18 years old, she became the youngest elected official in the nation’s capital.
In 2014, Carpenter was elected to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for Ward 1B10, which includes much of Howard University’s campus. ANC members are the voices of their constituents, communicating with the City Council about residents’ concerns regarding policing, sanitation, economic development and other issues.
“We don’t get paid, we don’t get to make laws … our power is very limited,” she told The Hilltop, Howard’s campus newspaper. “My job duties completely require me to work with my constituents; they vote for me so I can work for them.”
Carpenter is a sophomore and a political science major. At school, she is the deputy chief of staff to Howard’s student body president, Leighton Watson, who is also a Young Futurist for 2015.
It’s clear that Carpenter has her sights set on a political future. She’s done a bit of work on Capitol Hill, too: She’s currently an intern with the District of Columbia Office of the City Administrator and she is a former intern to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in his Cleveland and Washington offices.
This year, Carpenter is a recipient of a Luard Morse Scholarship and will receive $25,000 to study abroad for a semester at an English university. In 2014, she became an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake initiative.
Tayo Sanders II
Tayo Sanders II studies stuff. No, really. Sanders, a graduating senior at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, studies materials science—or the study of matter. For the past several years, he’s focused specifically on nanotechnology, the study of matter at the atomic and molecular level.
This small stuff has led to big rewards for Sanders. Last year, he was named a 2015 Rhodes scholar and received a three-year scholarship to study for his doctorate. He will study solar cells, with the hope of one day making renewable energy more affordable. Sanders is one of 32 students from the United States who have been awarded up to $50,000 per year to study at the University of Oxford.
“I was truly at a loss for words,” Sanders told The Root about his win. “We’re increasingly becoming a globalized society. To be able to incorporate views and ideas from different cultures will help tremendously in solving the problems here in the United States.”
In the summer of 2013, Sanders participated in a research project at the University of Strasbourg in France. The following year, he was awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which honors students pursuing careers in science, math and engineering. Today, he mentors students at the National Science Foundation‘s Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation summer research program. This year, he will present his research, for the second time, at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Sanders says his parents have been his biggest inspiration. “Neither of my parents went to college, but they instilled in me the importance of education and worked incredibly hard to give me the tools I needed to succeed,” he said. “Only as an adult have I fully realized and appreciated how much they sacrificed for me. Their selflessness motivates me to go as hard and as far as I can.”
Singer, actress and humanitarian Keke Palmer should add “first” and “youngest” to her name. She’s the youngest person to host her own talk show, Just Keke. She’s one of the youngest actors to ever be nominated by the Screen Actors Guild for outstanding performance by a female actor in a television movie or miniseries for her role in 2004’s The Wool Cap. She’s the first black Cinderella on Broadway and the youngest actress to play Cinderella in the Rodgers & Hammerstein show.
And although Palmer has been busy with an acting career, she has long been teaming up with organizations that work to bring awareness and social change to communities around the world.
She’s been involved with Saving Our Daughters, a nonprofit organization that motivates girls of all ages, since she was 12. In 2011, she partnered with the organization and the YWCA to become the exclusive ambassador for the Oath Project, which hopes to help combat bullying and violence worldwide by encouraging teens and adults to take an anti-bullying oath.
“It is good to inspire one another and encourage one another, versus putting one another down,” Palmer said ina video about the Oath Project.
More recently, Palmer and Chideo, a charity network, have joined forces to raise money for the Embrace Girl Power! after-school program, which is part of her official charity of choice, the Embrace Girls Foundation. The foundation aims to teach girls to be healthy, confident, ambitious and educated. With access to academic tutors, leadership training and various social opportunities, these girls are able to embrace their self-image, work collaboratively and make a positive impact on their communities.
At just 21 years old, Palmer is already setting a positive example for young girls to follow.
Stephen Stafford II
Stephen R. Stafford II’s fast-paced road to higher education all started when he was 2 years old and began playing school with his older sister. Then his mother started home-schooling him, and he quickly became too smart to teach, particularly when it came to learning higher levels of math.
So he audited an Algebra II class at Morehouse College in Atlanta when he was just 11 years old. After acing precalculus algebra, Stafford officially enrolled at Morehouse a year later. Because Georgia law requires students to be 16 before they can graduate from high school, Stafford was to receive his high school diploma just a year before he is set to obtain his undergraduate degrees.
“I didn’t know what the big deal was about going to Morehouse,” he said in 2010. “I just knew it was the next step in my education–and I’m gonna do what my mother tells me to do.”
Stafford is majoring in pre-med, computer science and math. According to the Best Schools website, where he was named one of the world’s smartest teenagers, Stafford hopes to attend Morehouse’s School of Medicine and one day specialize in obstetrics and fertility.
“I’m just like any other kid. I just learn very, very quickly,” Stafford said.
Zoe Gadegbeku wishes more girls would pursue careers in the science and health fields. In 2011, while earning the Gold Award, the highest honor for a Girl Scout, she started the WISH (Women in Science & Health) Careers Network, a volunteer organization to encourage young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
“I undertook this project because of my enthusiasm for health- and science-based careers, and my discovery that fewer high school girls than boys choose and begin preparation for health-, science- or technology-based careers while in high school,” she said. “Girls who choose to take challenging math and science courses in high school are much more likely to successfully meet the rigors of science-, health-, or technology-based majors in college, I learned. Through WISH, I want to encourage, educate and positively affect young women in these career paths.”
Gadegbeku has traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). She has spoken on Capitol Hill about receiving the Gold Award for starting WISH. Gadegbeku was a member of the Greater Atlanta chapter of the Girl Scouts and was also honored with the National Young Woman of Distinction Award in 2013.
“While earning the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards, Girl Scouts learn to identify community needs, problem-solve, fund raise, implement, evaluate impact and sustainability, and budget,” she said. “Earning the Girl Scout Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting, has already opened many doors for me.”
Social media allows for photos and videos to be easily accessed by millions across the world. It can be used for live news coverage or even cute pictures of puppies. It can also rapidly spread images that may change a person’s life forever.
Jada (known only by a first name) attended a party with friends one night, accepted a drink that was unknowingly altered and passed out. When she awoke, Jada realized that she had been undressed at one point during the night. Not only had Jada been raped, allegedly by two of her peers, images and videos making a mockery of her unconscious body had been posted online.
Brave and strong-willed, Jada turned to social media to combat the bullying, rape and abuse to which she, along with millions of others, had fallen victim. Jada does not define herself as the helpless person seen in that uploaded image.
Rather, Jada sought justice, fought back and refused to hide. Two suspects have since been arrested. In an interview with KHOU11, Jada said, “There’s no point in hiding … everybody’s already seen my face and my body, but that’s not what I am and who I am.” With her head held high and raised fist strong, she gained supporters with#IAMJADA. As a sign of solidarity, thousands of everyday men and women as well as celebrities are providing support for her by reposting #IAMJADA and #StandWithJada. Jada was able to take back control and not remain silenced by the horrific actions with which she has been forced to deal.
Everybody deserves a chance to be heard. Jada took a life-changing event and found a positive way to use her experiences to educate the masses, while providing a voice for other victims.
Leighton Watson knows firsthand that a picture is worth a thousand words—and a few thousand retweets. The 22-year-old Grand Rapids, Mich., native helped stage a viral photo at Howard University in August after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Since the photo, Watson has continued to speak out about injustices against young African Americans, including a speech at the Justice for All March in Washington, D.C.
“I’m not up here because I’m an activist. I’m up here because this is personal,” Watson said in his speech. “I’m someone who is not too middle-class or not too comfortable to realize it could have been my parents that were sitting over here, crying over me being in a grave.”
Watson says this speech led to one of his proudest moments. In an interview on Sirius XM radio, a single mother called in to say that her 10-year-old son had seen Watson’s speech and was motivated to be just like him. Speechless and on the verge of breaking down over the airwaves, Watson knew that his words were making a difference.
And the White House has taken notice, too. In December, Watson was one of a handful of youth activists who met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office to discuss next steps regarding monitoring policing standards and changing relationships between police and the African-American community.
Watson says that his grandfather, Alonzo Watson, who started a housing authority in South Bend, Ind., inspires his passion for activism. The complex included a college campus where each resident had to complete an associate’s degree in order to stay in the residence. “More important than the accolades, I am impressed by the way he was able to change the lives and the trajectory of an entire city,” Watson said. “If I could have a similar impact where I reside, I would feel like I’ve had success.”
Clearly, Watson stays busy on- and off-campus. He is president of Howard University’s student association and an ambassador for BET’s What’s at Stake initiative. He is set to graduate in May, and hopes to get a Juris Doctor/Master of Business Administration joint degree and eventually practice law. “After starting a successful practice, I’d like to go back into public service,” Watson told The Root. “That is my true passion.”
Alexis Templeton will not let up.
“I realized I was an activist the moment I got locked up for the first time by willingly walking into a line of police officers with my hands up,” the 21-year-old Ferguson, Mo., native told The Root. Although a grand jury decided not to indict then-Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown in her hometown, she vows to keep protesting until a change comes in communities across America.
“I will continue to fight for justice all across the world by being resistant until people of color’s existence is respected, by speaking up when no one else will, and by making whomever necessary uncomfortable in order to have the conversation needed to have people of color living in a society where they can be comfortable,” Templeton said.
Templeton is a co-founder of Millennial Activists United, an organization that hopes to put a millennial face on the movement toward social justice. She started the organization with her wife, Brittany Ferrell, whom she met while protesting on the streets of Ferguson. Templeton says her wife inspires her every day. “[My wife] is a daily reminder that my everyday act to wake up and love her, a black woman, is revolutionary in itself,” she said. “And because of that choice, we help change the normalcy of society every day.”
Although media coverage of Ferguson has slowed, Templeton remains fired up. She takes to social media to tweet the latest updates out of the suburban St. Louis town, and she is still taking to the streets to protest. She has been arrested a number of times, spending the last Saturday in January in jail. She was charged with trespassing and interfering with an arrest, according to her Twitter feed. “This is what fighting for your life, and the lives of those to come after you, looks like,” she wrote in an article for Ebony. “Change is nothing but the process of discomfort in order to one day become comfortable.”
Nicholas Cobb is a philanthropist at heart. When he was just 12 years old, he started Comfort and Joy, a nonprofit organization that raises money to buy coats for homeless families in north Texas. Comfort and Joy started as an Eagle Scout project, but quickly grew to become an organization that was changing the lives of the less fortunate in his community.
Like a few other Young Futurists on this year’s list, Nicholas Cobb has already met the president. He was one of six Boy Scouts chosen to meet with President Barack Obama and several other politicians, including House Speaker John Boehner, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.
“Boy Scouts has opened opportunities for me that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Cobb told The Root. “I’ve been able to learn a number of skills through the diverse assortment of merit badges.”
Now 18, Cobb is a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is majoring in computer science. His love for computers started early, and he even built the Comfort and Joy website. When he graduates, Cobb hopes to become a game developer. “I want to create games because it is a creative outlet for me and those who play them,” he said.
In December, TeenNick named Cobb a Halo Effect Award winner. His nonprofit also donated coats to the Urban League Guild of Greater Dallas and North Central Texas last year. In six years, the foundation has raised more than $40,000 and donated 705 coats. He hopes to soon develop chapters of his organizations in cities across the nation.
“One of the most fulfilling moments was when a woman at one of the shelters I volunteered at told me in tears that she was so moved that when she was back up on her feet that she wanted to do something to help other people, too,” he said. “It was a good feeling to feel like you inspired someone to sort of pay it forward.”
Jordan Williams wants to help you turn your dreams into dollars. Williams, a 16-year-old Atlanta native, started his first business, Kids Toys Inc., with another Young Futurist, Brandon Iverson, when he was just 10 years old.
“My dad was the person who inspired me to be an entrepreneur,” Williams told The Root. “He always encouraged me to think outside the box and create my own opportunities in life.”
So for the past six years, he and Iverson have been building their brand with multiple business ventures. At 13, they created Making Money for Teens, a financial education company. The duo published their first book, Who Needs an Allowance? A Teen’s Guide to Starting Their Own Business, a year later. And in 2014, he and Iverson started Young Moguls Brand, an urban clothing line that “carries a message of entrepreneurship and success.”
Williams and Iverson have traveled across the country speaking to young people about the power of entrepreneurship, and have appeared on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, Good Day Atlanta and Atlanta TV’s The CW 69.
This “teenpreneur” is inspired by motivational speaker Les Brown and actor Kevin Hart. He says he admires Hart because he’s got business savvy and continues to build his brand while staying connected to his fan base. It’s an important tip that Williams shares with other up-and-coming entrepreneurs. “Focus on building a brand that people can relate to,” he said. “It’s important to make your customers embrace the brand and feel a part of it.”
When he was 10 years old, Brandon Iverson got tired of waiting for an allowance from his parents to buy the latest video games, shoes and toys. He wanted to make money on his own terms. So he started his first business venture with his friend Jordan Williams. Taking a few pointers from Robert Kiyosaki’s book Rich Dad Poor Dad for Teens, the duo started Kids Toys Inc., an online toy company from which kids could buy used games for half the original price. Iverson says this was “the stepping stone” in his entrepreneurial career.
When they were 13, he and Williams started Making Money for Teens, a financial education company. Shortly after, when they were only 14, he and his business partner co-wrote their first book, Who Needs an Allowance? A Teen’s Guide to Starting Their Own Business. The two entrepreneurs have traveled across the country to speak to young people about the importance of entrepreneurship and building wealth at a young age.
Now 16, Iverson is a teen mogul. In 2014, he and Williams started Young Moguls Brand, a clothing line that promotes business enterprise.
For young people thinking of starting a business, the Atlanta teen says find a way to turn a hobby into something that can earn a profit. “If you base your business off of your personal interests, then it will never feel like work,” he told The Root.
Kaya Thomas has always loved to read. As a child, she read Debbie Allen’s Dancing in the Wings and Brothers of the Knight over and over because the characters looked like her. She loved seeing a little black ballerina on the pages of a vibrant picture book.
As she got older, Thomas found that it wasn’t always easy to find books with authors and characters of color. So she took her passion for reading and technology— she’s a sophomore computer science major at Dartmouth—and developed We Read Too, an app that helps users find the perfect book for their children of color. Since it was added to the iTunes store in August, the app has been downloaded nearly 2,000 times and users can browse more than 300 titles.
“It is so important for black children and all children of color to read books where the characters look like them so they feel included and represented,” she told The Root. “There are several authors of color telling our stories through writing, and with my app, I hoped to give them and their characters the spotlight.”
In the last few years, Thomas has immersed herself in the tech world. At Dartmouth, she’s a student programmer at Tiltfactor, the university’s game-design lab focused on social change. Last summer, she interned at Time Inc. as a mobile-development intern. Her latest project is her newly launched YouTube channel, Code With Kaya, where she hopes to shake the notion that coders are just geeky white boys. The channel will offer coding tutorials and tech reviews.
It takes a real chess master to be able to win a game without even looking at the board. That type of achievement takes a talent that Joshua Colas mastered at a young age. On top of that, at 12 years old, Colas became the youngest black chess master in history.
“My dad is really passionate about chess and he passed on this appetite to me when he first taught me the game at 7 years old,” he said on his Indiegogo campaign page. “The days when my dad could beat me in a game are far gone and that’s what he wanted. Now, the next step is for me to accomplish my goal of becoming the youngest African-American chess grandmaster in history.”
As of February, the U.S. Chess Federation ranks him No. 201 out of 57,000 players of all ages. For five straight years, Colas was selected to represent Team USA at the World Youth Chess Championships in Greece, Brazil, Slovenia, United Arab Emirates and South Africa. This year, Colas plans to play at the Chicago Open, World Open, D.C. International, U.S. Master Championship and several other tournaments.
In 2014, state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins honored Colas on the New York Senate floor for his outstanding achievements in chess. And colleges have taken notice of his talents, too. Webster University in St. Louis and the University of Maryland have already offered full-tuition scholarships. But with two years left in high school, he’s holding out for MIT.
When he’s not dominating his latest opponent, he also loves to play the piano, basketball and video games. He’s a fan of Drake and says he sometimes listens to his music before a big match.
Zora Neale Hurston would be proud of the work that Maryah Sullivan has done in her hometown, Eatonville, Fla. Through the Joe R. Lee branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Sullivan has led beautification projects in the town and has volunteered at nursing homes.
“I’m trying to change the perception,” she said. It’s “a predominantly black neighborhood and crime rates are high, so when people think of Eatonville, they don’t think of the positive.”
The work that she’s done hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2014, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America named Sullivan its National Youth of the Year. For the 2014-2015 school year, she is serving as the organization’s teen spokesperson and joins several other African Americans, such as Denzel Washington, in crediting the Boys & Girls Clubs for changing the course of their lives.
“When I was announced as Boys & Girls Clubs’ National Youth of the Year I felt honored,” she told The Root. “I am extremely grateful to be able to share the hope that the club has given me with many other club youth.”
At 6 years old, Sullivan found a place of refuge in a small trailer that served as the town’s Boys & Girls Club office. “Life wasn’t about puppies, kittens and rainbows for me,” Sullivan wrote in the essay that helped her win the award. “I was never the type of girl that believed in unicorns or magic because I lived and breathed harsh realities every day. I knew about survival.”
Fast-forward to last fall, and Sullivan became the first in her family to go to college.
She attends the University of South Florida and is a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences. In the future, Sullivan hopes to specialize in neurosurgery, with big dreams of one day finding a cure for brain cancer.
“Boys & Girls Club gives you hope that against all circumstances you can still achieve your dreams and be successful,” she said.
While serving a 10-day suspension from school in 2011, Chancelor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, found a productive way to spend his time. Instead of sitting around watching TV or doing chores, he used the time to write his first mixtape, 10 Day, which he released in 2012. His hard work, persistence and love of music allowed him to build on the success of 10 Day with the release of his second mixtape, Acid Rap, in 2013. This tape propelled him into the spotlight after he completed high school and began a national tour with Grammy Award-nominee Childish Gambino, aka comedian/musician Donald Glover.
“[I]t was kind of like my stepping-out tape, with me trying to prove to a lot of people—beyond rap critics and fans—but mostly to teachers and people that I grew up around, that I was good at that s—t, and that I was gonna make a career out of it,” Chance said in a 2013 interview with HipHopDX.
With his rising popularity on the music scene and through meaningful lyrics, Chance is using his platform for good. In 2014, he led a social media campaign to try to quiet the escalating gun violence in Chicago for 42 hours. By using the hashtag #SAVECHICAGO on Twitter, he hoped to combat the rising murder rate in his hometown. Perhaps through his efforts, or purely by coincidence, following his tweets, Chicago made it through a full 42 hours without a shooting.
Chance’s story is an exceptional example of using talent, dedication and the desire for social change to elevate his career while also affecting change in his community.
Four years ago, Saheela Ibraheem stepped onto the campus of Harvard University, a freshman in college at only 15 years old.
After skipping the sixth and ninth grades, Ibraheem received a near-perfect score on the SAT and was accepted to 13 prominent colleges, including several Ivy League schools. She was once named one of the world’s smartest teenagers.
Being a young college student didn’t faze her or her classmates, except when she needed to buy medicine or wanted to get into an R-rated movie, she says. “Being at Harvard has been the most amazing experience,” she told The Root. “I am constantly surrounded by passionate people, from whom I have learned so much.”
Set to graduate this year, Ibraheem, now 19, is studying neurobiology and hopes to one day become a professor.
In her junior year, Ibraheem served on the board of the Harvard Islamic Society as vice president. She speaks Arabic, Spanish and Latin, and loves to listen to music, play logic puzzles and read manga.
If you looked at Teryon Lowery’s résumé, it’d be hard to believe that he has any time to sleep. He’s enrolled in several Advanced Placement classes. He’s president of the minority mentorship program at his high school, president of the youth board of the More Than Me organization and a junior deacon at his church. He’s quite the athlete, too. Lowery is on the varsity track team, and he’s studied Jeet Kune Do, a form of martial arts.
As part of the More Than Me organization, Lowery has traveled to Monrovia, Liberia, to teach young girls poetry. His mother sent him to the country with $300 in spending money. Instead of spending it on the trip, his mother says, Lowery donated $250 to the foundation for school supplies for the girls. The organization hopes to make education and opportunity available for young girls in the West Point slum of Monrovia. When Ebola hit the area, the organization partnered with the country’s Ministry of Health to send support to West Point.
The 17-year-old has also interviewed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about human trafficking to complete a yearlong social justice project. He is a senior leader of the Social Justice Committee at his high school, and has participated in service projects for Adopt-a-Grandparent, Neighborhood House and Big Brothers. Lowery is an alumni of the NJ SEEDS program.
Lowery has already been accepted to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. At home, he has two brothers who have been diagnosed with autism, Tyler, 7, and Isaiah, 5, whom he cares for and inspires.
The idea of pawning valuable items to secure a loan has been around for thousands of years. Typically, pawnshops handle a wide range of merchandise, but Chase Reed had a different idea all his own.
As a 14-year-old growing up with access to the hottest sneakers, Reed found himself with a collection of 200 pairs of sneakers in his closet. When he asked his dad to borrow $50 to buy a new pair of sneakers, his dad decided to hold on to the new pair until Reed was able to pay off the $50 loan. That is when the idea of Sneaker Pawn USA, the world’s first sneaker pawnshop, was born.
After figuring out how to actually go about opening and running a business, Reed and his father welcomed customers into their apartment in June. Reed’s knowledge of sneakers is so vast that he has the final say as to what price he will buy and sell the sneakers. It has been a learning experience for him. The best part of the father-son business is “having my father mentor me and guide me,” Reed said.
Now at 16, this young man owns a successful sneaker pawnshop; custom paints sneakers and is in his junior year at Frederick Douglass Academy. In just months of being open, Reed is already thinking of expanding to locations across the country.
This year, Reed is collaborating with Relevant Customs, a shoe-manufacturing company, and plans to release his own high-end line of shoes.
Kiona Elliott pedaled her way to the White House. In 2013, President Barack Obama tested out a science project that she and her Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam teammates had developed at her high school in Florida. The project was a bicycle-powered filtration system that rids contaminated water of E. coli and other harmful pathogens. Elliott acted as the group’s chief of communications, and she compiled monthly reports to send to MIT.
“Meeting President Obama was definitely one of the most surreal moments of my life,” she told The Root. “Even now I can hardly believe that I had the opportunity to be one of the representatives from my L-MIT InvenTeam to shake his hand and share our invention with him. It is an experience I will always cherish.”
And all this happened before she even graduated high school. Her work on the project helped her earn the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Now Elliott is a second-year horticulture major at the University of Florida, and she’s focusing her studies on plant-molecular and cellular biology. In the future, she hopes to develop more sustainable and nutritious food options in America.
Elliott’s love for science all started during her sophomore year of high school, when she joined her school’s science team.
“I firmly believe in the power of science, in combination with compassion, to address global issues,” she said. “I want to use my love of science and my compassion for others to make a positive impact in the world.”
16 year old Jaylen D. Bledsoe’s company, Jaylen D. Bledsoe Global Group, specializes in Web design and other information technology consultation services. Based in St. Louis, with contractors across the United States, the company was begun by Bledsoe when he was just 13. Within the course of a few years, he’s expanded his company from just two employees to more than 150 contractors across the nation.
Since then, he’s traveled across the country to motivate young people to take risks and become entrepreneurs. There may not be a better choice of a motivational speaker for teens than a millennial with a company reportedly worth millions.
“I’ve come to the understanding in my life as I travel the country speaking to youth, hoping to change lives, that the word ‘net worth’ doesn’t have to apply, simply be, the equation of ‘your assets minus your liabilities,’” he wrote on the Huffington Post. “Success is your net worth. Your net worth not being your financial possessions, but your net worth being the number of lives you’ve changed.”
In January, he participated in Steve Harvey’s Mentoring Program for Young Men. Last year, he gave speeches at several major corporations and universities including Facebook, Google, Disney World and Stanford.
Bledsoe once served as the chief technology officer of St. Louis VolunTEEN, a program that focuses on volunteerism for teens.
Raymond Pryor IV
- Category: Social Activism and Justice
- Age: 17
- Hometown: Denver, CO
- Education: East High School
Raymond Pryor IV is dedicated to service. For the past two years, he’s been a member of the Colorado Youth Advisory Council as a Senate district delegate, where his policy specialty areas have been addressing the statewide disparities in education across racial and socioeconomic lines and revamping the statewide standardized testing program.
At Denver’s East High School, he leads Angels for AP Excellence, a student-driven initiative to increase the diversity of honors and Advanced Placement courses to better reflect the tremendous diversity that encompasses the entire student body and help address the large achievement and opportunity gap.
“Whether it is through private enterprise or public service, I want to serve and invest in underprivileged people and communities in order for them to have the equal opportunity to maximize their scholastic, professional and personal potential,” Pryor told The Root.
Last year, Pryor was one of 12 high school students to be chosen as a Bezos scholar, which he says was “a complete honor.” The yearlong leadership program is named after Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and the scholars were invited to attend the annual Aspen Ideas Festival. Pryor, who is a senior in high school this year, is anxiously awaiting acceptance letters to college, and he’s the editor-in-chief of his school’s yearbook.
“I understand that I am only in the position I am now because people invested in my future and believed I could be something great,” he said. “I am driven to serve and advocate for those who cannot do so for themselves, because people were dedicated to advocating for me.”
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste it, to experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” This quote has inspired 17-year-old Lindsey Shavers so much that she displays it prominently on the website created by her and her two siblings for their Explore a Little Company.
With a history of explorers in her family, Shavers has certainly inherited the adventurer gene. Imbued with this spirit, Shavers began to ask: Why not have a place where people can share new discoveries? Shavers says her company’s purpose is “to encourage others to experience new people, challenges, places and things and all of the riches they will bring.”
She had her own harrowing experience as a member of the Blue Sky Fund’s 2013 Outdoor Leadership Institute, a program that encourages teens of diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds to learn leadership skills through outdoor activities. During a five-day trip, the participants encountered a horrible storm. When a flash of lightning struck the ground nearly 50 feet away from Shavers and five other teens, the teammates had to quickly decide whether to head home and start fresh in the morning, or continue their camping journey. The group of six banded together with the determination to face their challenges and finish their adventure.
This test of courage sparked the idea to create Richmond, Va.’s first RVA Outdoor Teen Leadership Challenge. Shavers and her OLI teammates used their journey as inspiration to create the leadership challenge; worked hard to win a grant from the Community Foundation’s Youth Philanthropy Project to fund the event in partnership with Blue Sky Fund; and publicized the event on their own.
Shavers summed up the leadership challenge best, saying, “This event is a celebration of what teenagers who share a passion for community service, teamwork and leadership can do.”
It’s clear that Ntozake Shange has inspired Kush Thompson. A quote from the poet scrolls across Thompson’s website. One of the titles of Thompson’s poems is a riff off Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Taking after remarkable female poets before her, Thompson just hopes to pass on the word about the fullness of womanhood, one stanza at a time.
Thompson, who wrote her first poem in the third grade, is making a name for herself on the Chicago poetry scene. She’s performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival, TEDx Windy City and at Louder Than a Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam in the city. Last year, the poet released A Church Beneath the Bulldozer, her debut poetry chapbook.
Some of Thompson’s poems include, “For Colored Girls Who Considered Yaky,” “Speak,” “Chicagwa” and “Letter to My Unborn Son,” which she performed at a youth hearing on police violence in the wake of the choke-hold death of Eric Garner. Thompson says one of her most vivid performances was during a sit-in at Chicago’s City Hall led by the Black Youth Project 100, an activist organization committed to justice. She was reciting her poem “To the Police Officer Eyeing Me at Panera Bread,” and realized four police officers were standing behind her. She turned to them, confronting them with her bold, dynamic words.
“I was trembling the entire time and nearly screaming while one walked away and another nervously tried not to look at me,” she told The Root.
The poet was introduced to Young Chicago Authors in late 2009, and she has since become a teaching artist there. She has performed at the John F. Kennedy Center with John Legend and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. In January, she led a workshop on black feminism and womanism for BYP100. She is also a co-founder of the Lady Church Collection, which hosts monthly meets focused on female empowerment.
“To be a womanist in 2015 is to be a weapon against kyriarchy while still maintaining the tenderness that makes me love, that makes me fight,” she told The Root.
Sarah McMillian’s love for science started with a few at-home-experiment kits, a summer at science camp and an extra nudge from her black, fifth-grade science teacher, Ms. Johnny. Her teacher’s affirmation, along with the support of her parents, was a game changer, McMillian says.
Years later, McMillian, a 21-year old student majoring in mechanical engineering, is inspiring other young people halfway across the world to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. During the 2013-2014 school year, she studied at the University of Cambridge as part of the school’s exchange program with MIT. While there, she co-founded the Cambridge Tabadol Project, which aims to build the innovative capacity of aspiring engineers in the Levant. For the project’s first year, she and other students created a training program for 15-20 students in Jordan
“We created a training program for university students that builds their creative-thinking and teaching abilities so that they can lead creative-thinking workshops at local high schools,” McMillian told The Root. “We chose to first enact our program in Jordan because it produces a large number of engineers and is at the beginning stages of fostering a startup culture to kick-start more rapid economic growth.”
Before the Tabadol project, she taught Palestinian students engineering courses through the MIT Global Teaching Labs program. More recently, she worked with the municipal government of a small Indian city to research how it could better support its waste pickers. Although dealing with trash may not sound like a fun or cool thing to do, McMillian takes it in stride.
“It is always even more exciting to work in less popular fields, such as waste management, because greater attention and development are needed.”
Amiya Alexander hopes to prevent obesity “one beat at a time.” With her hot-pink dance bus, she travels around her hometown of Detroit, teaching dance to girls 2-12 in the nation’s first—and only—dance school on wheels. So far, she’s taught more than 50 girls. Alexander thought of the idea for a mobile dance academy when she was 9 years old.
“The main purpose is to reach out to kids who don’t have the same opportunities I have. Maybe they’re really, really good dancers, but their parents can’t afford to get them into classes,” she said in a YouTube video. “I would bring my studio to them.”
In the future, Alexander hopes to become an obstetrician, a “dancing doctor,” if you will. Recently, her mother, Teberah, told The Root, she’s added plastic surgeon to her career goals. Since interning at a company called Lifestyle Lift, she’s decided she wants to help women give birth and then be able to perform tummy tucks at a later date if her patients are interested.
The 16-year-old high school junior is also getting typical teenage work experience. She’s starting at McDonald’s this month. The franchise manager hopes that Alexander will provide inspiration to other teens at the restaurant. Alexander is also very involved in her church, participating on the usher board, mentoring girls at church lock-ins and teaching lessons in children’s church. Last year, she studied abroad in Costa Rica, learning Spanish.
TV psychologist Dr. Phil has set up a scholarship fund for Alexander to help keep Alexander’s dance bus bopping to the beat.