The Kids Who Rocked the Racial Justice Movement in 2016

By Kenrya Rankin Dec 26, 2016

The year might have been dominated by the machinations of old White men, but the racial justice movement saw no dearth of action from the youngest among us. From the Flint native who propelled her city’s water crisis onto the national radar to the girl who rallied Latinxs to vote their interests, here are the young activists whose intersectional battles inched us closer to freedom in 2016.

Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny

While many likely know Copeny from the viral posts about her reactions to meeting President Barack Obama and then-candidate Donald Trump earlier this year, it’s what she did to garner those meetings that really stands out.

Copeny, who is now 9, is credited with bringing the president to Flint as her city struggled to reclaim healthy drinking water for its citizens. The girl dubbed “Little Miss Flint,” wrote the president to request a meeting during her visit to D.C. for the hearings surrounding the crisis in her hometown. Instead, Obama headed to Flint—and focused the nation’s eyes on the city’s struggle.

From her letter:

I am one of the children that is affected by this water and I’ve been doing my best to march and protest and to speak up for all the kids that live here in Flint. This Thursday, I will be riding the bus to Washington, D.C. to watch the congressional hearings of Governor Rick Snyder. And I know this is probably an odd request, but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife…. A meeting from you or your wife would really lift people’s spirits.

Copeny told Time that her motive for writing the letter was simple: “I wanted him to know what was going on.”

Marley Emerson Dias

This time last year, Dias told her mother that she was “sick of reading about White boys and dogs.”

“A lot of books have lessons that are good lessons, like tie your shoelaces or be careful what you wish for,” Dias told The New York Times. “But if you don’t have a common trait with the character in the book, you don’t remember the lesson as well. If you do have a common trait, there’s always something connecting you back.”

So she launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign, in which the 11-year-old asked people around the nation to send her books that centered Black girls as the protagonists. Dias collected more than 7,000 books, many of which she donated to Retreat Primary and Junior School and Library in her mother’s native St. Mary, Jamaica. She then created the 1000 Black Girl Books Resource Guide, where young readers, their parents, libraries and educators can search for titles that explore the lived experiences of little Black girls everywhere.

In September, Dias joined as the digital magazine’s editor-in-residence, which finds her creating a ’zine, titled “Marley Mag.” “I want to change the way we imagine Black girls in books and in culture and I want to create new spaces for Black girls to be represented,” Dias wrote in her editor’s letter.

The Times reports that she is on a national literacy tour, talking to other kids about the books that reflect their realities in a different city each month. And because she wants her peers to expand their reading experiences, too, she’s working to add books to her school’s classroom reading lists.

Sarai Isaura Gonzalez

Better known as the “Soy Yo” video girl, this 11-year-old Peruvian and Costa Rican-American girl appeared in Bomba Estéreo’s visual for the song and captivated viewers with her unwavering confidence and unabashed claims to her body and her freedom.

“They told me that the character of the ‘Soy Yo’ video was a spunky, just being herself kind of girl,” Gonzalez told Fusion. “She would always just hold her head high and be proud of what she was doing. And that’s who I am, so it was pretty easy to transform into that character.”

Gonzalez went from being a badass Brown girl ready to dominate a dance battle at any time to getting out the vote in People for the American Way’s (PFAW) “Be You y Vota” video. In it, she leads her family and neighbors to the polls so they can vote for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I was excited to do this video because this election is so important. I’ve had enough of Donald Trump,” she said in a statement posted by PFAW. He’s unkind and he’s dishonest. Even all the kids in my school know how racist he is and that he can’t be president. He would make America much worse, not better. That’s why everyone needs to vote.”


In 2015, 21 young people—half of whom identify as Native or Black—filed a lawsuit charging President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Departments of Energy, the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Defense and State for willfully poisoning the earth they will inherit, rendering it toxic for future generations. The kids are working with Our Children’s Trust and nonprofit Earth Guardians, which is led by indigenous climate activist, and co-plaintiff, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

From the lawsuit:

For the past fifty years, defendants have known about the danger to plaintiffs’ safety created by carbon pollution. Acting with full appreciation of the consequences of their acts, defendants knowingly caused, and continue to cause, dangerous interference with our atmosphere and climate system. defendants have knowingly endangered plaintiffs’ health and welfare by approving and promoting fossil fuel development, including exploration, extraction, production, transportation, importation, exportation and combustion, and by subsidizing and promoting this fossil fuel exploitation. All of these deliberate actions by defendants have cumulatively resulted in dangerous levels of atmospheric CO2, which deprive plaintiffs of their fundamental rights to life, liberty and property.

The plaintiffs range in age from 9 to 20. They are:

Nathan Baring, 15
Victoria Barrett, 17
Zealand Bell, 11
Jaime Butler, 14
Levi Draheim, 9
Jayden Foytlin, 13
Tia Hatton, 19
Kelsey Juliana, 20
Sophia Kivlehan, 17
Jacob Lebel, 19
Alex Loznak, 19
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 16
Avery McRea, 10
Kiran Oommen, 19
Aji Piper, 15
Hazel Van Ummersen, 11
Sahara Valentine, 11
Nick Venner, 15
Isaac Vergun, 14
Miko Vergun, 15
Journey Zephier, 16

Just two days after the election, Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon Eugene Division denied the government’s motion to dismiss Kelsey Cascade Rose Juliana et al. v. The United States of America et al., clearing the way for a trial. From her opinion:

A deep resistance to change runs through defendants’ and intervenors’ arguments for dismissal: they contend a decision recognizing plaintiffs’ standing to sue, deeming the controversy justiciable, and recognizing a federal public trust and a fundamental right to climate system capable of sustaining human life would be unprecedented, as though that alone requires its dismissal. This lawsuit may be groundbreaking, but that fact does not alter the legal standards governing the motions to dismiss. Indeed, the seriousness of plaintiffs’ allegations underscores how vitally important it is for this Court to apply those standards carefully and correctly. Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it.

The environmental justice warriors want the federal government to phase out fossil fuel emissions nationwide. “This is the moment where we decide what kind of legacy we are going to leave behind for future generations,” Martinez said in a Time article.

Beaumont Bulls

As 2016 draws to a close, police have killed 243 Black people in the United States. When this Texas football team decided to follow San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lead in protesting police violence against people who look like them in September, the 11 and 12 year olds probably didn’t think they would become national news.

It’s reported that the team’s executive board initially supported the protest, but after photos of the predominantly Black team kneeling during the national anthem prompted death and lynching threats, the staff and students were told not to repeat the action. Most of the team kneeled again a week later, and the board clashed with—and subsequently suspended—coach Rah-Rah Barber. So 14 of the 19 players took their protest further, refusing to play until their coach was returned to the field. The team eventually forfeited the last three games of the season.

But the team’s real impact was felt far from the field. “We took a stand when other people wouldn’t,” 11-year-old Jaelun Parkerson told The Undefeated. “We’re trying to put a change in the world, but other people are scared to put that change in the world.”

When The Undefeated asked if they would have done anything differently, the boys shook their heads. “I would have kept on taking that knee,” Parkerson said.

This Cutie Who Doesn’t Think Presidents Should Sexually Assault Women

Chicago-native Ella Choimorrow, 22 months, attended her first protest on October 18. From her mother, Sung Yeon Choimorrow of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum: “I hope to continue to raise her to be an amazing, fierce person of color.” Something tells us she’s off to a great start. #PussyGrabsBack.

*Story has been updated to include information on Ella Choimorrow.