14, Founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, Activist & Author
People are really surprised at the ability I have to be able to speak articulately and express my ideas, but I want to become not just the exception but the norm.
I want to make sure that every girl and every child out there is able to feel these things in their heart, have all these ideas, and feel comfortable expressing them.
My advice to girls is to break those barriers. If you’re the first person to speak out, understand that there are so many other girls out there that want to and by setting one example, saying one opinion, you can change the entire space.
Also, it’s important for parents and educators to really want to encourage kids to ask more questions and to speak up more. There’s no way a kid is going to want to go and speak up if they feel their ideas are not supported or that their parents and adults around them don’t care about what they have to say. It’s a community effort. It’s not just kids that need to be more open and more confident. Parents and leaders in kids’ lives need to be more accepting of their ideas.
I started #1000BlackGirlBooks in November of 2015. I was really frustrated because in my 5th grade class I loved to read, but I was only reading stories about white boys and their dogs, and that is the quotable moment of my campaign. [laughs]
The campaign is really about collecting books in which Black girls are the main characters and donating them to schools and communities that need them across the globe. We have collected over 12,000 books and donated them to places in Ghana, we’ve gotten books from places like Japan, Canada, and Singapore. We donated books all over the East coast, California, Arizona, New Mexico as well. The campaign is about greater diversity and equity in curriculums in schools and libraries.
Septima Clark was a Black educator who focused on making sure that Black adults could teach their children how to read. At the time, Black people did not have the right to vote. She wanted to make sure that Black parents were educated on how to read and how to write so they could pass on for generations as education.
A lot of what she did was about empowering Black parents to empower Black communities, and I think 1000 Black Girl Books really does capture that. [The only difference is] I focus on the kids, but Clark inspires me because she tried to focus on one aspect of a community and then change the community for better.
Intersectionality is really important to activism in general and specifically, it’s important to 1000 Black Girl Books. In some ways, the name of my campaign is even intersectional. I’m not just talking about collecting books for Black kids but I’m talking about collecting books for girls. It is about feminism and being a racial activist. I think that it’s really important that we understand that everything is connected in some way. I’m not just focusing on making sure that girls have rights and that girls can speak out or that Black people have rights and that Black [people] can speak out, but that every single person has a cross path in which activism can really help them. So I don’t just want to focus on being a racial harmony campaign. I don’t want to focus on being a feminism campaign, but a campaign that allows for a greater diversity and more acceptance of these intersectional ideas, and the fact that every single issue in the world is connected to another issue and another problem. If we focus on one of those we can spread out some of these methods and ideas globally.
Legacy is something that I don’t really think about a lot because I am so young, but some of the achievements that really stand out to me are 12,000 books being collected, being able to change curriculums all over New York state, and talking to all the superintendents of New York state. These are things that really hit home for me.
Being the youngest person on the Forbes 30 under 30 list is a huge deal, so I try and think about these achievements as my legacy, but the most important part of what I do is motivating and giving kids the tools and resources to create social action projects.
The reason I started this project is because of something that my mom and other kids around me have taught me and the reason that other kids want to start social action projects is because of the messages that I taught them. So, I think my legacy will always be the little kids that see me on Instagram or have read my articles through school or have read my book and know now that they can change the world.