Young Futurists 2013: Trinity Russell
After seeing fruit flies kept in small containers at a research lab during a school trip, Trinity decided to compare fruit flies that were reared in laboratories with thousands of flies caught from the outdoors. In her yearlong research, she found that the laboratory-reared flies were unable to withstand starvation, struggled to gain altitude and were attracted to the dark — unlike the ones collected from the outdoors. “I concluded that scientists’ experiments may be compromised because they are using domesticated, or laboratory-reared, flies,” she said. “Since fruit flies are remarkably similar to humans and contain approximately 70 percent of all human disease genes, the implications of the research were monumental.”
Her research eventually won her third place in her division at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, and she was published last year in the Journal of Experimental Secondary Science. She wants to continue studying fruit flies and hopes to become a doctor and researcher. She also wants to start a mentoring program to encourage young people to consider research and science careers. “The answer to every problem lies within science,” she said. “With science we can continue to cure disease and discover great new things. I feel as if science is truly the key to our future.”
Young Futurists 2013: Jordan Coleman
When he was 10, he started making Say It Loud!, a film that featured black male celebrities talking about education. It included Kobe Bryant, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes and Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, among others. “I saw African-American boys weren’t focusing on education but on being the next Kobe,” he said. “I wanted to snatch them out of that dream.” A child actor, Jordan used earnings from his voiceover work as Tyrone the Moose on Nick Jr.’s series The Backyardigans to finance the film.
Inspired by the positive response, Jordan made Payin’ the Price in 2010 about teen domestic violence — an idea sparked by Chris Brown’s well-publicized assault on then-girlfriend Rihanna. The film was named the HBO best feature film of 2011 at Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival. Jordan said his main goal is to educate, entertain and spark thought-provoking conversation. “I get my ideas from the average life in high school,” he said. “I am just the average kid who dreams big dreams, and I just go out and try to achieve them.”
Young Futurists 2013: Khalil Fuller
- Category: Science and Technology
- Age: 20
- Hometown: Los Angeles
As a kid, Khalil was an exceptional math student – finishing an entire workbook in one week while the rest of the class was still on the first chapter. After school, he spent afternoons in his stepmom’s classroom and eventually became her unofficial teacher’s aide. He noticed that many students struggled with math, causing them to fall behind.
With that in mind, in 2010, Khalil co-founded NBA Math Hoops. Centered around a sports-themed board game, the learning program involves students from sixth to 10th grades using dice and stat cards of players in the NBA and WNBA to make arithmetic problems fun.
The program now reaches 10,000 students in more than 350 schools. Khalil, who is CEO, hopes to reach more students with the game and develop more innovative educational programs. “I’m not a math geek or a math whiz,” he said. “I just know how important it is to get through math and know that so many of our young people struggle with that.”
Young Futurists 2013: Victoria Okuneye
- Category: Science and Technology
- Age: 21
- Hometown: Brooklyn Park, Minn.
- Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Victoria has always been interested in the seemingly unrelated areas of science and service, particularly empowering youths around the world. She is associate director of MIT’s Global Poverty Initiative, which works to engage the school in international development through education, outreach and global service. Through MIT, she traveled to Guadalajara, Mexico, where she worked on neurocoaching — improving performance and culture in workplaces through a better understanding of the cognitive neuroscience behind them.
The brain and cognitive sciences major also spent two summers in Jamaica, working with a local nonprofit to help increase the literacy rate for children. As the youngest of eight and the first in her family to be born in the United States, she said, “I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities, resources and support that I’ve been able to take advantage of being in the U.S. There are lots of people around the world who have the same capacity to do great things but aren’t always in the best situations.” Victoria plans pursue an M.D. and Ph.D. to become a physician-scientist researching the effects of environment and stress on performance and health.
Young Futurists 2013: Charles Orgbon
After witnessing litter take over his school campus, then-12-year-old Charles decided to make a difference by starting Greening Forward. Its mission is to “establish, engage, and empower a diverse global movement of people for the protection of the environment powered by young people.” He believes his peers are tomorrow’s environmental leaders and change-makers — and the success of the organization is a testament to that.
The 16-year-old has helped make Greening Forward a powerhouse movement, growing from a Dacula, Ga., organization to one that has effected change on a large scale, reaching thousands of youths and hundreds of schools across the United States, Asia and Africa. “We’re helping to shape a change in culture about what young people can and cannot do,” he said. “With the right support, young people can do anything.”
Young Futurists 2013: Megan Piphus
Megan was introduced to ventriloquism at the age of 10 on a church trip. Amazed, she returned home and headed straight to the library to pick up instructional videos. With practice, she became a pro — performing in national competitions and even on The Oprah Winfrey Show, wowing audiences with her uncanny ability to give puppets life. A video of her delivering her high school valedictorian speech< accompanied by her puppet George became an Internet hit. Most recently, she was a contestant in America’s Got Talent’s YouTube contest and a guest on The Tonight Show.
Her performances aren’t just for show. “There are morals behind every skit that I perform for people of all ages,” she said. Recently crowned Miss Black Tennessee 2013, Megan also founded an organization, Color My Dream, which she created to help children recognize and embrace their talents, as she did when she was a kid learning ventriloquism.
Young Futurists 2013: Jonathan Lykes
- Category: Social Activism and Justice
- Age: 22
- Hometown: East Cleveland, Ohio
- Education: University of Chicago
Jonathan is a world traveler on a mission. From South Africa to India, he has spread his commitment to civil rights and humanitarian relief. In 2011, Jonathan spent six months in the Cape Town, South Africa, township of Khayelitsha, advocating alongside students, teachers, parents and nongovernmental organizations for a more egalitarian education system. In the summer of 2012, Jonathan trekked to Mumbai, India, where he worked with several NGOs on education rights, housing and policy initiatives and academic research initiatives for disadvantaged youths living in Mumbai’s slums.
He also works to make lives better at home, working with his University of Chicago political science professor to create the Black Youth Project, an online resource that explores the lives, attitudes and voices of young African Americans. In 2008, the American Civil Liberties Union acknowledged Jonathan for his efforts in activism as a high schooler, naming him its student activist of the year. “Everything I do is related to what I experienced growing up,” Jonathan said. “I went to a high school where only 50 percent [of students] graduated. What society do we live in where this kind of story can exist?”
Young Futurists 2013: Victoria Carter
As a member of Rethink, a New Orleans nonprofit, Victoria makes sure students have a voice in rebuilding public schools in the post-Katrina city. That includes improving school cafeterias and systems of punishment. Rethink members, including Victoria, were featured in the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation: The Great Cafeteria Takeover, which followed the Rethinkers as they negotiated an agreement between their school district and Aramark, their food provider, to serve healthy, fresh, locally grown food.
Victoria also works to replace punitive forms of punishment in New Orleans schools with restorative justice, highlighted in the short documentary A Better Way Than Punishment. “Restorative justice tries to get to the root of the problem,” she said, “so adults, teachers, parents and principals understand why kids act the way they do, how to solve their problems and how to not punish them for what they’ve done, but instead help to repair a relationship … and the harm that has happened to the community and the student.”
Young Futurists 2013: Brittany Stallworth
- Category: Green Innovation
- Age: 21
- Hometown: Detroit
- Education: Howard University
While she was growing up in Detroit, members of Brittany’s family suffered reproductive issues, and she herself was diagnosed with precancerous growths. She researched possible causes and realized that the illnesses correlated to pollution in the environment, their workplace and food choices. After a drastic change in diet, her health improved. Now Brittany is a fierce advocate for incorporating environmentally friendly practices into all aspects of daily life. She founded the “Green Is the New Black” conference at Howard University, attracting 40 organizations with green jobs and internship opportunities. The recipient of the 2012 Brower Youth Award, Brittany plans to become a doctor. “People of color don’t always get the information they need to improve their health,” she said. “This is an issue of environmental and food justice.”
Young Futurists 2013: Samuel Rhone
- Category: Green Innovation
- Age: 18
- Hometown: Chicago
- Education: Air Force Academy High School
Samuel’s hero is Nikola Tesla. This isn’t surprising for a young man whose elementary school science project — a self-generating battery — was deemed too extreme to bring into his science fair (he ended up with an A anyway). The cadet at the Air Force Academy High School applies his love for science and green energy to aviation engineering in school, projects at home (re-engineering power sources and souping up his cellphone to run a computer) and as a deejay and musician. He is also a leader in the AeroStars Aviation Exploration program with the after-school program After School Matters.
Those skills were born in adversity after his mother, Joann McIntyre, became ill with renal failure and he had to take on more responsibility. As he works on getting in shape to donate a kidney to her, Samuel aims to pursue his interest in aviation engineering at Southern Illinois University and hopes to continue inspiring others. “Once you get in the door, you bring in as many people as you can,” he said. “You try to bring everybody up with you. All of us are one corps.”
Young Futurists 2013: Amber Liggett
Amber has been making amazing balloon animals from an early age. Little did she know that her dexterity and creativity would lead to a thriving party business, Amber’s Amazing Animal Balloons. Now 16, Amber has earned many awards for her ingenuity, including 2012 Black Enterprise Teenpreneur, the 2011 NFTE Global Young Entrepreneur and Ernst & Young’s 2011 Emerging Young Entrepreneur. She’s also into meteorology and is lead weather forecaster for the Pittsburgh chapter of Foot’s Forecast.
Her philanthropic spirit is woven through all that she does. She often makes balloon animals for local charity events, and in her spare time she teaches children with autism about weather and entrepreneurship. As for the future, she says, “I want to partner technology with balloons to use as hand therapy.”
Young Futurists 2013: Chental-Song Bembry
When she was in elementary school, Chental-Song’s teachers marveled at how she could take simple writing assignments and turn them into fun and engaging reads. When she was 10 she created three characters, wrote a story about them and gave it the title The Honey Bunch Kids. She’s since turned the book into a series and added more characters; the third book came out in May 2012. “The theme in all of the books is friendship,” said Chental-Song, who also illustrated the stories. “They have to learn about each other’s differences, and that’s what brings them together in the end.”
She has used the self-published book series to promote literacy. She is a youth ambassador for two literacy organizations, LiteracyNation and Mission EduCare, and speaks at schools, churches and libraries. Chental-Song said the response from children has been overwhelmingly positive. “There needs to be more books about African-American kids with characters they can relate to,” she said. “That was one of my motivations for writing the books.”
Young Futurists 2013: Miles Hodges
Miles draws inspiration from authors such as James Baldwin and Langston Hughes. And his poetry is inspiring fans across the globe. His work has led to a featured spot on Russell Simmons’ HBO documentary Brave New Voices and performances at venues such as the Apollo Theater and the Kennedy Center and a live tour in the United Kingdom. A passionate voice in his community, Miles leverages his growing popularity to advocate for the integration of creative writing and arts into school curriculums. He recently traveled to India and London to work with students and teachers. “I’m a writer trying to figure out what it takes to be a good person in the world,” he said.
Young Futurists 2013: Polite Stewart Jr.
- Category: Science and Technology
- Age: 19
- Hometown: Baton Rouge, La.
- Education: Southern University
Polite was 3 years old when his parents pulled him out of day care and his father began teaching him at home. He loved learning science — and he clearly had an aptitude for it. At the young age of 14, he enrolled full time as a student at Southern University, majoring in physics. At Southern, Polite spent a summer looking for ways to mark specific proteins in cancer cells using fluorescent dye. The objective was to more easily find the cells so they could be destroyed. During a summer spent at North Carolina State University, he was part of a research team that worked to create self-cleaning, anti-glare glass that would repel vast amounts of water and oil through the use of a concept called hydrophobicity.
Polite graduated in December 2012 at 18 and is believed to be the youngest to do so in the history of Southern University. His plan is pursue a career in which he can apply the science he loves to the real world. “I just love learning,” Polite said. “It doesn’t matter what. That’s why I like science so much. There is always something new to be discovered.”
Young Futurists 2013: Thekia Cheeseborough
- Category: Social Activism and Justice
- Age: 21
- Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
- Education: Spelman College
As the daughter of young parents, Thekia believes that young motherhood shouldn’t spell the end of education and success. So she created the program “B.E.S.T. Moms: Building and Encouraging Success in Teen Moms,” which won her a $10,000 Dalai Lama Fellowship. Through her project, which helps teenage mothers and their children gain access to educational resources, she held a series of 11 personal and academic workshops and skill-building training sessions, all designed to help young mothers get the skills they need to go to college or enter the job market, give them a support system of women mentors and focus on enrichment and literacy for their children. “When you become pregnant, or you become a mother or father of a child at a young age, people think that your life is supposed to stop — you’re not supposed to get an education, you’re not supposed to go to trade school, you’re not supposed to become the best person you can be,” Thekia said. “I just think that’s truly incorrect.”
Young Futurists 2013: Donald Brooks
Donald became interested in green initiatives when he enrolled at Environmental Charter School in Lawndale, Calif. His main goal was to attend a college prep school, but he really got on board with the movement when he began working on projects to reduce the school’s carbon footprint — helping to make benches out of natural materials, creating a composting program and assisting in the creation of a water-conservation system. Donald has since brought his interest in environmental awareness to Wilberforce University. He was a college ambassador for Green for All, a national organization that works to build a clean economy. Because of his efforts, the school is participating in a recycling competition and has hosted clothing swaps on campus.
He strongly believes that people need to be shown the impact of their carbon footprint and the benefits of the green movement. “It shouldn’t be a hobby,” he says. “It should be a lifestyle.” His advice to people: “Reuse resources, reduce the consumption of material and recycle.”
Young Futurists 2013: Darren Guest
Darren, owner of Darren Guest Studios, has used a wheelchair since the age of 6 but has not let muscular dystrophy get in the way of his passion. A gifted artist with a strong eye for composition, he studies at Zoll Studio of Fine Arts and has developed a broad portfolio despite his limited mobility. His lifelike portraits, multimedia cartoons and impressionistic landscapes have attracted nationwide attention, netted him commissioned work and gained him fans that include the Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Rice and Ed Reed. Darren’s latest project is an illustrated book about children with disabilities. “We’re all the same and should be treated the same,” he said.
Young Futurists 2013: Brittney Exline
Brittney likes to say that she is a product of nature and nurture. She taught herself how to read at age 2. She did complicated jigsaw puzzles. She used to solve problems out of workbooks for fun. Her mom noticed her early accomplishments and tried to find the best educational fit, which is how she ended up skipping three grades. At 15, she became the youngest African American to attend an Ivy League school when she enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania. When she graduated at 19, she became the youngest African-American engineer.
She is a software engineer for Chikita, an online advertising network in Westborough, Mass. “My mom had to fight to get me to a place that was challenging,” she said. “I just happened to rise to that challenge.” Brittney tries to encourage more African-American youths to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. “We have an outdated way of teaching math and science,” she said. “We need it be more interactive and more project-oriented.”
Young Futurists 2013: Michael Tubbs
The Stanford University graduate had a lucrative future ahead of him. But when his cousin was killed, he decided to use his talents to answer a higher calling: re-energizing his community. He co-founded Save Our Stockton, an organization aimed at reducing youth crime, and Phoenix Scholars, which helps local students attend college.
When Michael ran for city council, his campaign started with 12 people in his living room. Soon 40 people were knocking on doors on his behalf, and he received a $10,000 donation from Oprah Winfrey. Michael became Stockton’s youngest city councilmember, with more than 60 percent of the vote. “Change isn’t going to happen because of elections. It’s about getting the community to work on shared solutions,” he said.
Young Futurists 2013: Rayshawn Whitford
Rwanda wasn’t on Rayshawn’s radar when he started college. But four years later, Rwanda is exactly where he can be found — as one of two country directors of the Babson Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center, which aims to enhance the entrepreneurial landscape there and, in a broader initiative, East Africa. He and a colleague serve on judging panels for business-plan and ideas competitions and speak at events intended to inspire young entrepreneurs. They also develop curricula and programs for teacher-training seminars, offer consulting services, vet business plans and fund small businesses started by secondary school students.
Rayshawn has also traveled to Ghana, where he helped develop solutions that increased beekeepers’ incomes and lowered malaria rates. This is not his first foray into business — as an undergrad, he was CEO of OneSwipe, a student-run business. Next, he wants to get MBA and MPP degrees to better understand “the ways in which business can be used as a tool to meet social goals of our society.”
Young Futurists 2013: Leanna Archer
The secret to Leanna’s healthy hair is found in her great-grandmother’s formula. That formula led to her business success as well. At age 9, Leanna obtained a business license and created Leanna’s, Inc., after fielding repeated requests for the homemade product. At 13, she became the youngest person to ring the New York Stock Exchange bell. Leanna has now expanded her all-natural lineup to include skin care, earning her a guest spot on The Wendy Williams Show.
Her interests go beyond beauty. A business trip to Haiti led her to create the Leanna Archer Foundation, which provides food and shelter to homeless children. With annual revenues in excess of $100,000, Leanna’s company helps underwrite the foundation’s mission. “If you can do something positive,” she said, “then why not do it?”
Young Futurists 2013: Camille McGirt
Thanks to her height — she is 6 feet 4 inches — Camille was a stellar athlete growing up. She played basketball, volleyball, tennis and a little bit of soccer. As an adolescent, she was taught the importance of exercising, eating healthy and keeping her body mass index in check so she could perform better on the court and avoid the diabetes that runs in her family.
Camille came up with the idea for Healthy Girls Save the World while interning with the Congressional Black Caucus in 2011. Inspired by the first lady’s Let’s Move! campaign, which addresses childhood obesity, she decided to combine her enthusiasm for sports with her passion for community service. After starting out in a Durham, N.C., library with 25 girls, Camille hosted a three-day summer day camp for 50 girls last summer at UNC, where the kids met and engaged in physical activity with the women’s swim team, volleyball team, soccer team and basketball team; went on a college tour; and participated in nutrition-enrichment lessons from faculty and staff in UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health, among other things. “We place a great emphasis on physical health,” she said, “making healthy choices when standing in front of the vending machine or in the cafeteria, but also things outside of physical health — relationships with teachers, parents, friends and also with boys.”
Young Futurists 2013: Emily Carpenter
- Category: Arts and Culture
- Age: 18
- Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Education: School of the Future
A poet, peace advocate and actor, Emily expresses her diverse passions in many ways. Working with Girls for Gender Equity, she helped organize workshops at New York high schools to teach teens about sexual harassment. She’s a peer educator with the Center for Anti-Violence Education and has volunteered with the Nola Tree, a nonprofit that brings together teenagers to continue post-Katrina rebuilding efforts in New Orleans. That’s not all — Emily is also a three-time finalist in the Urban Word NYC teen poetry slam and, in 2011, appeared in SeeWatchLook, a street play staged below New York City’s High Line.
Recently she interviewed Anita Hill in Anita, a documentary about the life of the woman who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, and traveled in January to the Sundance Film Festival, where the film was screened. “What I’m really passionate about is human connection,” she said. “I feel that in all the things that I’ve done, I’m really striving for people to talk and have conversations and reconcile and love each other.”
Young Futurists 2013: La'Nesha Baldwin
- Category: Social Activism and Justice
- Age: 20
- Hometown: Chicago
- Education: Southern Illinois University
In 2009, after La’Nesha survived an episode of teen-dating violence during her junior year in high school, she wanted to transform her story of “pain and shame to words of wisdom to help other teen girls.” As a member of A Long Walk Home’s Girl/Friends Leadership Institute in Chicago, she helped lead social-action campaigns and marches to advocate against domestic violence. Three years later, she sits on the board of directors, having published her writing and photography in the institute’s art book. She was also selected to participate in A Long Walk Home’s Courage Tour, hosted by John Legend and Gloria Steinem at Steinem’s house in New York City.
Currently, La’Nesha is a sophomore at Southern Illinois University, enrolled as a premed major and a women’s studies minor, and her courage and determination to end sexual violence against girls — and boys — hasn’t wavered. “I plan to continue to work toward solving these problems,” she said, “and not just offering solutions.”
Young Futurists 2013: Joel Bervell
Through the organization he co-founded, Hugs for Ghana, Joel raises money, supplies, donations and more to change the lives of children in Ghana. Hugs for Ghana has provided more than 6,000 school supplies and collected $5,000 worth of medical supplies and more than 6,000 stuffed animals in just four years — and Joel is helping to lead the charge. The 17-year-old spends more than 500 hours each year planning supply drives for his organization, and he’s not stopping there.
He hopes to partner with Microsoft to bring computer labs to Ghanaian schools, set up student-exchange programs between Ghana and the United States and establish a pen pal network. “As high school students, I feel we [at Hugs for Ghana] bring a different type of vision to the organization, one that can’t be found in most organizations that are run by adults,” he said. “We’re simply a group of students who are passionate about volunteering and wanting to make the world a better place.”