For many years, critics and studies denounced young people for not voting or being apathetic toward politics and activism.
In the past few years, though, a number of teens, tweens, and everything in between have been outspoken on topics such as race, gender, class, and sexuality, raising the awareness level of passionate young people around the globe.
From crushing the patriarchy to advocating for better educational facilities for historically underserved kids, these adolescents are showing the world that age ain’t nothin’ but a number, but it’s a number that, when used right, can change the world.
Check out these young activists:
1. 17-year-old Yara Shahidi
A winner of the Young, Gifted and Black Award from BET and a recipient of college recommendation letters from Michelle Obama, actress Shahidi is using her brilliance, grace, and youth to change the world.
The “Black-ish” and soon-to-be “Grown-ish” actress has spoken openly and lovingly about being an informed, outspoken teenager in an age of fake news and twisted ideology on American values. She’s defended immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, and other groups often targeted by hate and bigotry while also using her platform as an example for young women of color.
“For me, just by being on a show called ‘Black-ish,’ race became an unavoidable conversation,” Shahidi told Teen Vogue. “It gave me this platform to address these topics, and that opened the doors to develop my voice in an intentional way.”
2. 18-year-old Amandla Stenberg
Stenberg has been a trailblazer for young, queer women of color. The bisexual, biracial actress and singer shut down critics who complained that her portrayal of Rue in “The Hunger Games” was problematic back when she was still a young tween. Since then, Stenberg has given speeches on authenticity, spoken out against racism and white supremacy, worked to provide spaces for queer people of color, and continuously advocates for black women to unapologetically be their true selves.
The rising star continues to use her work in art and music to increase representation and is extremely dedicated to amplifying the voices of teenagers.
“I think people discredit teenagers and how wise they can be,” Stenberg said in an Instagram post. “Sometimes, I meet teenagers who are much wiser than many adults I’ve met, because they haven’t let any insecurities or doubts about themselves get in the way of their thoughts.”
3. 21-year-old Zendaya
OK, OK, so Zendaya technically is not a teenager, but the Disney star and outspoken activist made some serious waves during her teenage years and continues to do so as she gets older. After dropping her publicist for making racist comments, Zendaya speaks out about racism in the television industry and its disproportionate effects on young black women.
4. 15-year-old Rowan Blanchard
The breakout star of “Girl Meets World” gained notoriety when she penned a heartfelt and eloquent letter after the show was cancelled. The TV star praised her own generation — often criticized for being lazy — as being “extraordinary” and capable of creating a better world.
“Teens determine and influence all of this in general, and I hope and think our show reflects you for how you are: brave, opinionated, audacious, devoted, dynamic, loving, nurturing, and powerful. … I will continue to fight to not be talked down to by the shows, books, and movies, that are aimed towards us. I am sorry that this channel is just not able to understand that (don’t think for a moment this happened because of you.) But I know what we are capable of. I know very well what we did. I am above all humbled to know I belong to such an extraordinary generation. What an honor.”
She’s kept her promise to continue working to change the world by advocating on the behalf of young girls, encouraging diverse representation, and committing to being an activist, even when the cause doesn’t affect her.
“To me, activism is a need to know, a need to explain, and a need to help,” Blanchard told Teen Vogue. “At first I was very scared of the term. I thought, ‘Am I actually doing enough?’ Then I realized that oftentimes existing is activism in itself.”
5. 16-year-old Willow Smith
As a singer, Smith has become very popular within R&B and indie circuits, but her work outside the studio is even more revolutionary. The 16-year-old has been vocal in calling out white supremacy and class discrimination, while also being an advocate for changing gender norms and creating safe spaces for people who don’t fit the binary. The young star continues to perform in speak in ways to are revolutionary in their existence, and it’s clear she is just beginning.
Honorary mention: 24-year-old Chance the Rapper
While Chance the Rapper is also beyond his teen years, his impact on youth and teen culture is remarkable.
Often referred to as “the voice of our generation,” the young rapper has utilized social media to create opportunities for teens and young adults, has been outspoken against police brutality, racism, and classism, and has raised millions of dollars for Chicago Public Schools.
Whether it’s advocating for the arts in schools or crooning to a crowd desperate for relief from a toxic political climate, Chance has been a source of joy, love, and pure excellence, setting an example for millions and teens and young adults around the world.