We often underestimate the power of youths’ voices and agency in our society. These 4 individuals are making history by holding people in power accountable for their actions — and they’re not waiting until their 18th birthdays. These youth are calling out injustice in their communities while inspiring not just their peers, but adults as well. We honor and salute them!
1. Zianna Oliphant
Last week, 9-year-old Zianna Oliphant spilled her heart out at a City Council meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. Oliphant spoke to local politicians and gave testimony about her experience of growing up Black in America.
“I can’t stand how we’re treated,” Oliphant told the City Council, her face wet with tears. “It’s a shame that our fathers and mothers are killed, and we can’t even see them anymore. It’s a shame that we have to go to that graveyard and bury them. And we have tears, and we shouldn’t have tears. We need our fathers and mothers to be by our side.”
Oliphant gave this speech just a few days after the police killing of Keith Lamont Scott. The local police department has yet to release the full video footage of the shooting. You can watch Oliphant’s heartbreaking testimony in its entirety here:
2. Janna Jihad
Janna Jihad is a 10-year-old Palestinian journalist who is dedicated to unveiling the daily acts of injustice inflicted on her people. She is one of the youngest journalists in the world. She currently lives in the West Bank and is an active protester against Israeli occupation. She began documenting her experience when she was 7 years old, her truth-telling spurred by the deaths of her uncle and cousin, and she’s been an unstoppable force ever since.
“My camera is my gun,” Jihad says. “The camera is stronger than the gun … I can send my message to small people, and they can send it to others.”
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Her goal is to eventually work for either CNN or Fox News, because “they do not talk about Palestine, and I want to make reports on Palestine.” Jihad is giving us so much life! Check out this video to see her in action.
3. Rene Silva
Brazilian teenager Rene Silva has dedicated his teen years to combating racist stereotypes about favela communities. He established his first newspaper, Voz da Comunidade, at age 11 and live-tweeted a police raid when he was 17. Silva’s blog highlighted the errors made by TV reporters and took a participatory approach to news media.
Silva has been unwavering about his message of bringing technology to help empower black and brown communities. “The important thing about being young and doing what I do in the favelas is to create new points of reference,” he says. “In the past, it was drug trafficking. Today, there is more recognition of the people who are trying to do good and change the reality of the place where they live.”
4. Zulaikha Patel
Zulaikha Patel is a 13-year-old South African student who has been bullied and has had to change her school three times for wearing her hair in its natural state. Patel stood up against a racist school policy at Pretoria High School that stated: “Hair styles that are extreme, distracting or attention-getting will not be permitted. No dreadlocks, corn rolls, twists, mohawks and no jewelry will be worn in hair.”
Pretoria High School is formerly an all-white high school in South Africa. Patel, along with several of her other classmates were sick of this racist policy and took a stand against it in August.
Her sister, Amira Patel, spoke about Zulaikah’s warrior spirit with Vox magazine: “She’s been sitting in her room for the past two weeks, studying the school code of conduct. She asked me for information on human rights and children’s rights as well. Imagine that? She later shared the information she got on her own and I was surprised. At the time, I didn’t think it was as serious as it is now.”