Mauldin High School
SC YMCA Youth in Government
If I could have one superpower, it would be:
If I had a superpower it would be the ability to turn hate into curiosity. Not hate into love, because that might be boring, ultimately. But if everyone who hated someone or something woke up one day and instead of hating, they were just curious, I think everything would be close to perfect. And once we were close to perfect, I would switch my superpower to the ability to teleport the Queer Eye Fab Five to wherever I was, at any time. Which may not be a superpower, but it should be.
How long have you been thinking about making change or engaging other youth in making change?
I have grown up in an activist family, so making change and advocacy is part of my DNA. I have always been that kid who is out with their parents canvassing for political candidates, or going to the polls to vote, or going to city council meetings. I started thinking about how I could make a difference personally in middle school, when I started seeing more boys than girls running for offices in clubs and in my school. That led to me working with my school and the YMCA to create the Girls Leadership Conference and shadowing program. That experience was pivotal for me, because I learned some of the most important steps to advocacy, which are defining an issue, creating a message, finding partners and collaborators, and then making change. Since then, I have helped organize students at my schools around political issues and candidates. I was a speaker at the 2018 Women’s March in my community, and I was a speaker at the Greenville County March For Our Lives in 2018. And in 2017, I started an organization called EmpowHER, which is a student-led organization that encourages high school girls to step into their leadership potential. In 2018, we launched a mentoring program, connecting high school girls to strong, female leaders in our community. We have connected almost 90 high school girls to mentors. I believe that young people can do real work, real advocacy, and make real change.
Have there been any particularly important moments that keep you motivated?
I am always inspired by collective effort, so when I see groups of people come together to support an idea, an issue, or a movement, my heart is lifted and I am even more motivated to stay involved. I convinced my parents to take me to Selma, AL when I was in middle school so we could be there for the 50th anniversary of the March to Montgomery. My mother and I also have traveled to DC for each of the Supreme Court arguments about marriage equality, and being part of those communities standing outside of the court was inspiring. But the most overwhelming and motivating experience for me was the Women’s March in DC in 2017. Seeing so many people, men and women, children and adults, come together was remarkable. I know that rallies are not activism, but events like that serve as a reminder to me that there are people everywhere who care about the things I care about, and that’s what motivates me to keep doing the daily grind of organizing and activism. Most recently, I watched the Parkland students organize and speak out about gun safety, and I found my new heroes. The March For Our Lives, and the fact that it was all young people, showed me that we have the ability to launch our own movements, and create our own messages.
Do you have any stories to share about that experience?
When my mother and I traveled to DC for the Obergerfell arguments (marriage equality), we had dinner with our friends Jason and Nic, who live in DC. They were engaged then, but wanted to get married in South Carolina. At that point, they couldn’t. Jason and I made a poster, and I carried it at the rally. And then the Supreme Court ruled that Jason and Nic could get married anywhere they wanted to, and a couple of years later I danced at their wedding in South Carolina. I know that the people outside of the Supreme Court didn’t cause the justices to make their decision, but I also know that people’s lives are changed because of our system of government. Every decision made by lawmakers and by the justice system affects real people. Anytime one of my friends tells me that it’s pointless to care about civic engagement and government and politics, I think about Jason and Nic, or the brave activists who worked for decades to bring about change during the civil rights movement. Or the girls who are choosing to run for office in their schools because the girls in EmpowHER are telling them they can do it. So, my stories are all about the actual people behind the big movements that I’m so inspired by.
What issues or problems matter to you?
I am a feminist, and I want to help women and girls everywhere realize their potential, and I want to help change policies that are still making it difficult for women to thrive. I also care passionately about bringing more young people into the realm of civic engagement, government and politics. I believe that we can change our country overnight if my generation were as engaged as older generations. All of the issues and problems I care most about, from gun safety to the environment, are issues that I believe need the voices of my generation at the table. So I believe that getting more young people involved and engaged is the threshold issue for making change in any other area.
What motivates you to be involved in creating change in these areas?
My feminism comes first from my mother and my family, but it is confirmed by my experiences. In middle school, I started seeing more and more boys run for office in clubs and in schools, and fewer and fewer girls. And I knew that was wrong, and I wanted to do something about it. When it comes to LGBTQ equality, my experience was pretty simple: I realized that people I had loved and respected my entire life did not have the same rights as others. That seemed so fundamental and so wrong, and it was impossible for me to reconcile the language in our constitution with the reality of my friends.
What do your friends and your family think of your involvement?
My friends and family are proud of me! I am fortunate that I have always been supported by my family, and that they have encouraged me to be as involved as I want to be in issues and organizations. My friends may joke with me about being “that person” when it comes to activism, but they are supportive and proud.
How do you feel that your work has made a difference?
I hope that I’m an influencer among my friends who encourages them to learn more, do more, and help make a difference in their lives and spheres of influence. And I know that the work I have done with my organization has provided mentors to 90 high school girls, and that will have a measurable impact on their lives. I know that my work has helped encourage more girls to seek leadership positions in school and in their communities, and that’s good for everyone!