Perhaps the youngest activist, Joshua Williams began helping hungry people when he was only five and saw a homeless man begging for money in Florida. After much urging on his part, his mother helped him set up Joshua’s Heart Foundation (joshuasheart.org) to give food to needy people, including food-filled backpacks for students to take home on the weekends when they don’t have school lunches. Only nine, a Hong Kong boy named Chan Yip-Long proclaimed, “China wants Hong Kong’s next generation to know how great it is and not know the bad stuff. The [moral education] booklet is very biased, so I am opposing it.” Student protests succeeded in preventing the use of the propaganda booklet in their schools.
Joseph Miles, age 10, protested against the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas by standing in front of the church holding a sign that said “God Hates No One.” The church blamed the devastating Oklahoma tornado of 2013 on support for gay NBA athlete Jason Collins, as they had blamed earlier disasters such as Hurricane Katrina on support for same-sex marriage. Miles inspired an NGO called Planting Peace to buy a house across from the church and paint it the rainbow colors of gay pride. They also fly the rainbow flag across from the church’s American flag. Another compassionate boy, Pennsylvania second grader Christian Bucks wanted to do something to help kids who seemed lonely during recess. He heard about a German school with a “buddy bench” and succeeding in asking his principal to implement the bench in their school.
When she was 11, Marie Hogan organized her San Francisco middle school against forced labor of children in the production of chocolate. When another 11-year-old girl wanted to raise money for an environmental group, her older sister created a fundraising website for kids called Piggybackr. Latino children ages six to 15 were threatened with arrest for singing in Congressional offices to call attention to the need for immigration reform in 2013. Middle school students in Groton, Massachusetts worked for a decade to create the biggest peace book in the world.[i] A fifth grade member of the book group, Kate, observed, “When you join an afterschool club, you don’t expect it to change the world, but this one might actually do it.”
Zoe describes how she became an activist in fourth grade in California, seen in our video.[ii] She started her activism when she felt left out by the girls in her class and her mother gave her something interesting to do. “I read the biography of Julia Butterfly Hill [The Legacy of Luna] who lived in a tree for a year in order to save the ancient redwood trees. It empowered me; it was so great to have a role model. It shows how just one person could give something to their community and the world just by caring.” She observed that the limitations on reproductive choice such as the state of Virginia’s requirement for vaginal probe ultrasounds before having an abortion galvanized young women: “It’s really helping to boil the blood of young activists out there. People are turning out wearing red in southern states, as in the Seeing Red Campaign. As more of these things happen, people are going to get more and more angry, which is good.”
Age 12 seems to be a pivotal stage. Zack Hunter was that age when he started a US-based organization called “Loose Change to Loosen Chains” to end global slavery. By age 15 he had written three books for youth activists from a Christian perspective: Be The Change, Generation Change, and Lose Your Cool. In the third book he asks,
Do you want to be passionate? Do you want to find a reason to get out of bed in the morning? Do you wish you were so excited about a project or a purpose that you had a hard time getting to sleep at night? We might look at Hitler’s story or the Rwandan genocide and be outraged that our grandparents and parents could have allowed these horrors to take place. But we need to stand up and take responsibility for what’s happening today–both in our individual lives and in the world. (He’s on YouTube.[iii])
Another 12-year-old, Oli Ahmed campaigns against child brides in the Dhaka slum where he lives in Bangladesh. A viral video shows a 12-year-old Egyptian boy explaining the need for revolution against theocracy and for equality for women.[iv] Canadian Craig and Marc Kielburger organized school friends to prevent child labor. The brothers and ten other 12-year-olds started “Free the Children: We are the Change,” which expanded to work for other youth issues and provide volunteer opportunities for almost two million students in over 120 countries.[v] “We Day” events in Canada and the US celebrate “a movement of young people leading change through We Act.” The first California We Day attracted thousands of youth in March 2014; participants were rewarded for doing a local and a global action. We Act resources are used to expand school service learning programs and their website lists 14.6 million volunteer hours, $45 million in donations, and 3.4 million Facebook friends.[vi]