Last year, we met these six lionhearted teenage girls, all of them committed to hanging the world by standing up for what they believed in. I was curious about what they’ve been able to accomplish in the 12 months, so I got back in touch. I learned that after a year of campaigns, graduations, and moves to faraway colleges, Kisma, Nathania, Francesca, Kodi, Alex, and Diamond are still bringing their determination and leadership with them wherever they go, expanding their reach, passing on their wisdom, and claiming their considerable power.
This generation—your generation—will change the world. You are not just our future, you are our here and NOW.
Big thanks to Dr. Martens for supporting teenagers who #STANDFORSOMETHING, and to all of you Rookies who are taking a stand all over the world. You are the true inspiration. —Jamia
Interviews by Jamia, photos by Sandy.
This post was generously sponsored by Dr. Martens. The content was produced by Rookie.
Last time we talked, you told me about your work with Sisters in Strength, a Girls for Gender Equity program that’s working to end gender-based violence and harassment. What are you standing for now?
I’m taking a stand for women’s health, because I want to be a nurse, and for women’s education, internationally. Currently, I’m fighting to get women included in My Brother’s Keeper [President Obama’s initiative to give boys of color better educational opportunities]. And I still volunteer at Sisters in Strength’s public events.
Beyoncé donated $125,000 to Girls for Gender Equity earlier this year. What do you think it means for pop culture figures to support gender-equity issues?
I think it’s really inspiring and great, because a lot of females are afraid of the word feminism. There shouldn’t be any fear of feminism. Feminism, on the basic level, is equality between males and females, and that’s good.
Last year, you said that you wanted your generation to try to make the world better. Do you see that happening?
Yes, I find that even though there’s a lot of tension around [Michael Brown’s shooting in] Ferguson, My Brother’s Keeper, stop-and-frisk, and other topics that affect young people, there’s also a lot of activism happening around them. People are drawing attention to these things, which means they will inevitably change. I love that people are taking action, and I love that my generation is a generation that uses the internet to really fight for what we believe in.
What makes you feel most powerful?
The fact that I have knowledge that I can pass on to others.
Last year, you were standing up for teenagers who were afraid to be who they really are. What are you standing for now?
I’m taking a stand against gender-based violence, school pushout, and street harassment.
What is school pushout?
School pushout is basically young people not being able to finish their education because of a lack of resources, harsh discipline, or over-policing in the schools—factors created by the educational system that end up pushing students out before they graduate.
Which of those issues are you most passionate about solving at this moment?
Street harassment. We’ve done a lot of work on it at youth rallies, but a lot of people still don’t really think of it as an issue. I get harassed on the street every day. If I don’t pay attention to the guys trying to harass me, they make threats. That is something I’m passionate about ending.
What does gender justice mean to you?
Gender justice means not worrying about being catcalled because you’re a woman. Not being harassed or beat up because you’re transgender. Or, if you’re in school, not feeling like you can’t try out for the football team because you’re gay or transgender. It’s about being comfortable in your own identity.
What have you been standing for this year?
I stand for peace, equality, and having an awareness of the world around you.
Are you still working with [the girls’ leadership organization] GAIN?
Yes. Though now that many of us, myself included, have gone off to college and to pursue our individual interests, we’ve become a little more hands-off.
How has being in college impacted your activism and advocacy work?
Since I’ve been in college, my activism has helped me stay balanced and grounded. And it taught me how to get involved on campus.
Last year, you told me that your mentees at GAIN taught you how to listen. Have you learned anything else about being a mentor?
I learned that being a human is absolutely fine. In the past, I thought a mentor had to be Superwoman. I thought I had to be a perfect role model for the girls I was mentoring. Now I’ve found that by just being yourself, you can inspire other people to do the same. Your story can give people the opportunity to get to know you, and by telling it, you can encourage them to tell their own stories.
What do you stand for today? Do you still work with Francesca at GAIN?
I’m not as involved with GAIN as I was before, though if Francesca needs me, I’m always there for my sister. But I’m still standing for the same things: speaking for the youth and speaking up for myself. I took a hiatus from activism, because I was working and getting ready for school, but then [the shooting and unrest in] Ferguson happened, and I joined a candlelight vigil to remember Michael Brown. That was very interesting, because I saw how youth are speaking up about current events and how passionate they are about making change.
How did those events get you back into activism?
They told me that I had to go twice as hard to stand up for my people, for boys of color.
What did you learn during your hiatus?
I learned that maybe I shouldn’t take such a long hiatus! Because I’ve noticed that when you do that, you just come back with more things to stand up for.
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
Getting into more activist work, attending more protests, and speaking out more about the social issues that are happening now. Making my voice bigger, pretty much.
What have you been up to since the last time we talked?
Up until June, I kept working with the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Teen Activist Project on recent issues around police brutality. There’s been a lot of progress lately toward ending the stop-and-frisk practice in New York City, but there is more to do. In the spring, I worked on a photo project with NYCLU, documenting stories of everyday activism—all different kinds—in New York City. It was sort of inspired by the Humans of New York project, but with a focus on activism. We talked to strangers on the street, found out what issues they were passionate about, and what they were doing to affect them. That was really fun. I also did some work with Hollaback!, trying to end the street harassment of young people. And I’m still working with Teen Concerts NYC, which gives young musicians opportunities to perform in the city.
What are your plans for this coming year?
I’m trying to determine how I can still be involved in issues that I care about in New York City, now that I’m [going to college] in a very rural area in Massachusetts. How can I still be involved with improving police practices in New York, and ending discrimination against students in the city, from a distance? I’m still trying to figure everything out. Something I’m getting more involved in now is the environmental movement. I also plan on working on reproductive rights and issues around health and wellness.
So much of your work has been focused on ending discrimination against young people of color. What does being an ally—working on these issues that may impact other communities more than your own—mean for you?
One thing it means is that I have to be constantly aware of the privileges I have because of my skin color. Another is to make sure that the people who are most affected by these issues speak first. Having thought a lot about these issues and having worked to try to end them, I have a lot to say about them, but the voices that are most important are always those of the people most directly impacted by them.
When have you felt most powerful in your activism?
When I’ve been passing something on. That feeling there’s someone out there who’s going to carry on your work, that it’s no longer just “your project” but is actually going places—that’s a really powerful feeling.
What have you been up to in the past year? Are you still with NYCLU and the Teen Activist Project?
I left home for college—I’m at Bowdoin College, in Maine—and finished up my first year there. I’m a sophomore now.I’ve been continuing the work I did last year with the New York Civil Liberties Union, but on my college campus. Can I tell you about what I did over the summer?
My summer was really great. I received a grant from my school to work at the Children’s Defense Fund. It was absolutely amazing! I did a lot of juvenile-justice and education-justice work there as an intern.
So, what are you standing for now?
Right now, I’m trying to get settled in with my classes, but I’m really trying to apply what I learned over the summer to my college. I’ve been trying to develop a concentrated support system for students with different passions, to help them create their own advocacy-based workshops where we can all learn from and support each other, and to raise awareness about different issues on campus—and outside the campus community, too. So I guess you could say I’m working on my own activist program!
What is it like being a woman of color in a state with so much less diversity than New York City?
It’s different. If you come from an urban place like where I’m from—in the Bronx—you don’t really notice that you’re black. Here, I do, because there are only a few of us. Sometimes you get self-conscious about how you act and how you talk. You keep yourself in check, in a way. But an upperclassman told me that’s not my problem, and that I shouldn’t care so much what other people think. You can just be yourself—you don’t have to play up stereotypes, but if you fall into one of them, oh well, that’s just you!
Have you been able to continue your Irish dancing?
I haven’t, unfortunately. I don’t have a group here or anything. But I still dance. I’m leading the hip-hop team this year, and I’m hoping to get the team more involved in the community and hopefully do some reaching out to the schools nearby, because there are lots of schools, especially elementary schools, that would really love something like that.