“Knock, knock. Who’s there? 2044. 2044 who? Vote for me in 2044!” Not many 9-year-olds are aiming for the presidency, but Mari Copeny was already campaigning during a Dr. Martin Luther King Day program in her hometown of Flint, Michigan.
You might already know Mari as “Little Miss Flint,” who gained fame when she wrote a letter to President Obama about the water catastrophe in her town. This Saturday, Mari will continue her advocacy work by standing up for women’s rights as a Youth Ambassador for the Women’s March on Washington.
The Women’s March on Washington began as the personal call to action made by a woman in Hawaiʻi via her Facebook page the day after the election. But over the last two months, the event has evolved under the leadership of a team of diverse and seasoned social justice activists. More than 208,000 people have pledged to march on the event’s Facebook page. Another 255,000 have indicated that they’re interested in attending.
Among those marching will be Mari and 30 other inspirational and diverse young people—plus a band—who have been named the Women’s March on Washington’s Youth Ambassadors and Outreach Ambassadors. Each of these ambassadors has committed to upholding the march’s seven Youth Initiative principals:
- Fight against forces of evil, not persons doing evil.
- Our diversities are the strength of this country.
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
- Community is the framework for the future. Engagement is crucial.
- Honor the champions of human rights, dignity and justice who have come before us.
- Honor our community by first honoring and respecting ourselves.
- We have the power to change the future.
The organizers of the Women’s March say they launched the Youth Ambassador program to “provide a platform of civic engagement where our youth can make their voices heard.” That shouldn’t be a problem, given that these kids were doing a great job speaking out against injustice before the Women’s March was even conceived.
Ava Santos-Volpe, a 12-year-old from Chicago, says she’s always been inspired by her moms to make a difference in the world. Prior to being named a Women’s March Youth Ambassador, Ava was helping to support youth experiencing homelessness in her city.
During a trip to Florida, she was excited by parking meters she saw around the city that allowed people to make donations to support those without homes. Back in Chicago, Ava partnered with a local LGBTQIA organization, Pride Action Tank, to connect artists with youth experiencing homelessness. Together, they gave retired parking meters creative makeovers, turning them into fundraising hubs.
Ava and Mari aren’t the only youth ambassadors with histories of activism. Cora Haworth, 13, is an experienced social justice advocate as well. Her mother, Tricia Fitzgerald, told DNAinfo that Cora has participated in protests “since she was a baby.” DNAinfo also reports that Cora has assisted the March of Dimes and the Epilepsy Foundation of Greater Chicago, and that she marched during the Chicago teachers’ strike in 2012.
Each Youth Ambassador brings a different set of experiences and skills to the march. “[They] are rock-star youth who are inspiring their communities through advocacy and activism,” says the Women’s March website. “They are not waiting to grow up to ‘be the change.’ They are the change and deserve a place at the table.”
These young activists might inspire your students to become change agents (or reinvigorate or affirm their activism) and spur classroom conversations about young peoples’ participation in the march for civil rights, past and present. Talk with your class about the seven Youth Initiative principals of the Women’s March. Ask them what issues they would they stand up for—and why. For classroom resources on civic engagement and student activism, see the Teaching Tolerance lessons “Discovering My Identity” and “Organizing to End Bullying”; the Youth United! video series; and the “Do Something” tasks in Perspectives for a Diverse America.
Pettway is a poet and advocacy journalist. She currently lives and writes in Bogotá, Colombia.