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Five Young Activists to Watch in 2019

By Janiah Adams | Contributing Writer | @niiahadams | Last updated: Jan 8, 2019 - 1:14:52 AM

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Proving that you’re never too young to speak out against issues or fight for worthwhile causes—whether it be in areas of social justice, humanitarian efforts, education or other arenas, young people all over the globe are making their voices heard.

An impressive group of young activists are making a name for themselves by fighting for causes they believe in and are working on future projects. Here are five to look out for in 2019.

Triumph from tragedy

Some community leaders get their start in activism through tragedy. Seventeen- year-old Mei-Ling Ho-Shing is no different. After living through the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where she’s currently a senior, her life took a turn. Weeks after the shooting that claimed 17 lives, students were featured on CNN during a town hall that was broadcast nationally. Ms. Ho- Shing sat frustrated.

“I was angry because the whole two weeks after the shooting, it was honestly heart-wrenching because not only were we in grief [but] we were always on TV,” she said. “I was so used to someone being shot and killed by any reason in the Black community and it only being a hot topic for three days and it was always silenced. So, seeing we were always on TV, I was like are you kidding me? I wanted to bring up the narrative for where was this for Trayvon Martin and the Charleston church shooting?”

Ms. Ho-Shing reached out to Dr. Rosalind Osgood, the only Black school board member in Broward County, Fla., to express how she felt. She didn’t know how to bring up the topic because it was such a sensitive time.

“[She] said that I wasn’t alone. She said I know it feels early but you can still step up and say something,” Ms. Ho-Shing said.

After the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C. in March 2018, Ms. Ho- Shing returned home with a mission. She and other Black students from her school organized a press conference to expand the narrative about gun violence in Black communities.

Since then, Ms. Ho-Shing has traveled to so many states that she’s lost count. She’s spoken at the United Nations, the American Federation of Teachers Confer

ence, the Illinois Education Association, and the Congressional Black Caucus, amongst other groups. It’s one of her main priorities to visit local neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Broward County that experience gun violence on a daily basis.

“A lot of students got this platform and automatically flew across the nation to talk about gun violence when Broward and Miami-Dade County have very high death rates for gun violence,” she said. “Why leave your own community?”

One of her goals is to continue to work to reduce mass shootings and gun violence. But she also wants to give a seat to those who need it most.

“When it comes to bringing a chair at the table, letting those that have experienced gun violence on a daily basis not just sit there, but letting them have a starring role,” she said. “Let them have a leading conversation at the table. And sometimes, it’s ok to give your chair to someone who deserves it.” Follow her on Twitter @MeilingIts and Instagram @ meilingits.

Activism through a new lens

At just 18, Danielle Nolen has used her passion for photography to fuel her activism. She’s been doing it since the 8th grade, after joining an organization dedicated to ending violence against Black women and girls. With her Nikon camera, she tells the stories of victims.

“The most recent project was a project for Rekia Boyd,” Ms. Nolen said. “She was killed in a park by a police officer and we were thinking of ways we could create a memorial.” Ms. Boyd was shot and killed by Chicago police detective Dante Servin in March 2012. Mr. Servin was charged with involuntary manslaughter but was found not guilty. Ms. Boyd was only 22. Since then, Ms. Nolen and those in the program have been creating artistic tributes to Ms. Boyd.

“We did a project where we took photos of the last places she had been the day she was murdered and we also created a bench using visual art and mosaic art and we’re thinking of ways where we can put the bench and different ways we can honor her,” Ms. Nolen said. “Her story is really magnificent because not only was she a Black woman, but she got murdered in the park where our school is located.” Ms. Nolen attends school on the West Side of Chicago. She said Ms. Boyd’s case has fueled her.

“It only encouraged me to use my activism more and more because we’ve been working on the Rekia Boyd case since I joined the program,” she said. “Each year it’s something different and it gets bigger and bigger to when I’m in Atlanta or New York speaking on panels.”

Ms. Nolen has spoken to audiences in front of hundreds of people about violence against Black women and girls. She said she went from not wanting to speak to the girls in her program to being more comfortable with speaking in front of audiences.

“It just seems like we don’t get talked about as much,” she said, referring to violence and abuse of Black women and girls. “It’s just starting to come to light, in my opinion, with sexual violence. Nobody really talked about it, so it’s important that everybody knows what it is and what to do when you see it, so you can let other people know,” she said. “Nobody really knew who Tarana Burke was. They didn’t know how to fit Black girls into the #MeToo movement, when it was really made for us.” Going forward, Ms. 

Nolen hopes to expand her work.
“I want to use my activism all over,” she said. “I’m a senior and my senior project

was about the incarceration of Black women and when I presented my project, the judges were saying how poised I was and how good I am with spreading a message, so I’d like to go all over with spreading my message and activism.” Follow her on Instagram @ nolen.dani

A passion to ‘do something’

Across the country in Houston, Texas, is Kaleb Taylor, a 25-year-old who just graduated from Texas Southern University with a degree in political science.

Mr. Taylor is no stranger to organizing for a cause. During his time at TSU, he was involved in student and community activism. For him, it started in 2014, right after the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old who was shot by Darren Wilson, a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

“We were starting to see more anger in the Black community on the police killings and frustrations of having a Black president but just dealing with the same issues,” Mr. Taylor said. “So I just had a burning passion to do something.”

Mr. Taylor saw students at the University of Houston, a predominantly-White institution, organizing around these issues but didn’t see students at his school, an HBCU, doing much organizing, he explained. A grand jury declined to charge Mr. Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown whose shooting sparked protests globally. Mr. Taylor said he was taking an African American literature class and had the desire to organize a rally on campus.

He was put in contact with Jesse Muhammad and Deric Muhammad, two well-known activists who are biological brothers and both members of the Nation of Islam in the Houston area.

“They kind of took me under their wing and showed me the ropes and exposed me to a lot of education and history most of us don’t get in public schools,” he explained.

With his new-found knowledge, Mr. Taylor and a few of his friends started a free community Black history class called “Roots” in partnership with a local church. They also started a radio show where they talked about issues affecting the Black community from a millennial perspective.

One thing Mr. Taylor wants to pursue is law school. He’s interned with officials in Washington, D.C., and with the mayor of Houston. TSU was one of the catalysts for Mr. Taylor’s development. He had the opportunity to be influential in the future of the HBCU.

The school also had issues with violence after two people were shot during 

the first week of school stemming from a problem with student housing as there were not enough housing units to accommodate the influx of students that enrolled in 2016.

“The administration didn’t tell students [about the housing issue] till classes started, so we had a lot of students coming in from Chicago and other places who didn’t have housing,” Mr. Taylor said.

He and his classmates were part of a movement called Take Back TSU and were instrumental in forcing the removal of the new president and much of the administration. The school now has a president that is responsive to student needs, Mr. Taylor said. Going forward, he hopes to pursue civil rights law, and is working on starting a podcast.

“I think economics is our true power,” he said. “My ultimate goal is to foster international business and international development in which we can connect our Diaspora and use our resources and knowledge here to develop the continent and allow there to be a funnel of talent and resources and capital between our Black communities.” Mr. Taylor believes unity is the key.

“We have to see ourselves not as Americans, Jamaicans, but as Black people first and I think if we operate in that mindset, then I think that we pretty much have the keys to our own liberation,” he said.

Getting young people involved

In the same city of Houston is Joshua Muhammad, a recent graduate of Prairie View A&M University with a degree in electrical engineering. Mr. Muhammad got his start on the college campus before he actually attended the school.

“I started getting involved in 2011 and we had youth conferences in Houston,” Mr. Muhammad said. “We brought Minister Farrakhan in 2011 to Prairie View,” he said, referring to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. “Then four years later, when I went to the school, we took a bus of students to the 10/10/15 rally,” he explained, referring to Justice or Else, the 20th anniversary gathering of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. The gathering drew hundreds of thousands of people including many young activists, organizers and groups.

Much of Mr. Muhammad’s work on campus involved working with students. “I was very involved and active on campus as well as in the city, everything from encouraging students to vote, to economics, getting students to realize their potential, especially as Black people at an HBCU,” he said. Growing up in the Nation of Islam, Mr. Muhammad had the mindset of building a nation.

“Growing up, we have Nation instilled in us so realizing we haven’t done that yet and wanting to bring that about, made me say ‘how can I contribute?’ Organizing people inside and outside the mosque to build the future for ourselves,” he said. Now that Mr. Muhammad is no longer a student, he desires to continue his work in the city and abroad. “I just want to continue what I was doing there on a broader scale,” he said. “Still focusing on our generation and inspiring us to use our talents, gifts and skills. I’m more so doing that in the local Houston area, but also nationally and internationally.”

With his goals in mind, he started a nonprofit called Nation Up, which caters to his mission of getting young people involved in the community. The nonprofit aims to organize the “assets we have in our community, especially dealing with our generation to use it for the building of our future,” he explained.

“The strategy is one I got from the Minister,” Mr. Muhammad said. “He said—I think it was a tweet— ’we have everything we need and the only thing we need is unity of the whole.’ ”I don’t want to create anything new, but to identify the pieces we have in our community and to put it together in the proper place. If we look at the Black community as a puzzle, each piece has a unique shape and position,” said the young activist. Follow him on Twitter @isaibnthagod and Instagram @isaibn

‘I have a responsibility’

A little further north, in Minnesota, is Nataanii Means, a native musician and “protector.” “I don’t really consider myself an activist,” Mr. Means said. “We call ourselves protectors. I have a duty to this earth. I have a responsibility to my future generations and in our way of life.”

At 28, Mr. Means is focused on creating music that speaks to indigenous pride and fighting corporations that have destroyed native homelands.

He’s originally from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and said he has three different tribes within him—Navajo, Omaha and Oglala Lakota.

“I take this very seriously and how I represent myself in this world and my ancestors because my ancestors died for me to live,” Mr. Means said.

Mr. Means is the son of Russell Means, the first national director of the American Indian Movement (AIM), an activist, writer musician and more. With over 8,000 YouTube subscribers, Mr. Means raps about life on Native American reservations, what it means to be a warrior, and pride. Speaking to today’s youth, who struggle with hard times on the reservation and suicide, is his passion.

“I’ve had young men and women personally come up to me and tell me how my music has helped them find identity and feel more confident in themselves and who they are,” he said. “How many indigenous rappers do you have in America who are doing something and actively engaging with them? I make music that makes myself proud, for the young who struggled on the reservation and it just so happens they relate to that.”

Mr. Means has performed across the seas in Europe four times in two years. He’s working to make a connection with natives in New Zealand.

He also participates in workshops, working with native youth in Pine Ridge and other areas.

“[We] helped them to identify problems in or around their communities and how to come up with solutions to those problems,” Mr. Means said. “And also recognizing that some of these problems are not their fault, but you can come up with solutions to fix them. We help them find their voice in writing workshops.”

On top of his music and workshops, Mr. Means is also fighting against billion-dollar corporations who are damaging the ecosystem.

“Standing Rock was one thing that took place, but right now there’s six different Standing Rocks happening right now that’s not getting any media coverage,” he said. “Indigenous nations that are fighting billion-dollar corporations. In 2019, that’s something that I’ll be spending a lot of time with as well as releasing new music.” Follow him on YouTube @Nataani Means, Twitter @Nataanii_Means and Instagram @nataanii_means