It’s difficult to think about the state of our world today without inflaming negative emotions. Reading the news exacerbates feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, with cycles of tragedy and subsequent inaction always at our fingertips. From frequent school shootings in the United States to unnerving reports of environmental degradation throughout the world, every facet of our lives seems at risk. So how do we, as young people, work with limited tools, resources, and platforms to do something about it?
Unfortunately, there isn’t necessarily a blueprint on how to successfully generate change as a high school or college student. While thrusting steely and undaunted individuals like 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg into the spotlight as national figureheads successfully draws attention to pressing issues, the eminence of notorious young people like Thunberg sometimes overshadows the innovation of other teenage luminaries who are also sacrificing their childhoods to fight for a better world.
Here are some awe-inspiring teen activists addressing a range of topics who serve as important reminders of how our energy can be channeled into something positive, community-building, and perhaps even world-changing.
Karolína Farská, 19
Credit: @Karolina_Farska on Twitter
In Bratislava, Slovakia, issues of political corruption have grown so omnipresent that, according to an article in The New York Times, “some analysts now speak in terms of ‘state capture’—where all major state institutions are effectively in the hands of corrupt politicians and untouchable oligarchs.” Despite the ominous nature of this statement, Karolína Farská has decided to face this seemingly impenetrable wall of corruption head-on. She is wielding the power of student protest to grow the anti-corruption movement, all in the name of taking Slovakia back for the next generation of citizens. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter as @farskakarolina and @Karolina_Farska, respectively.
Jamie Margolin, 17
Credit: Jamie Margolin
A Colombian-American climate-change activist from Seattle, Jamie Margolin has an unwavering focus on holding officials accountable for their inaction on the climate crisis. She is best known for co-creating the organization Zero Hour, which not only draws attention to inaction, but also highlights how systems of capitalism, sexism, racism, and colonialism are interwoven with the climate movement. She uses writing as an educational tool, with her work appearing in publications such as HuffPost, CNN, and Teen Ink. She can be found at @jamie_s_margolin on Instagram.
Muhammed Najem, 15
From the eastern city of Ghouta in Syria, Najem is a citizen reporter who takes his life into his hands to provide firsthand accounts of how violence ravages his life and the lives of those around him. Najem’s videos detail the violence that has intensified following the increased presence of government and pro-Syrian regimes in eastern Ghouta. And despite having to regularly fight online skeptics who say his videos are exaggerated or fake, Najem is continuing his mission to educate viewers about the tragedies, fears, and political turmoil his community contends with on a daily basis. Follow him at @muhammednajem20 on Twitter.
Aaron Philip, 18
Credit: Bryan Whitley
It’s no secret that the modeling industry is cutthroat and exclusive. This gatekeeping has revealed itself time and time again, one of the most blatant examples being a 2017 Vogue interview in which Victoria’s Secret marketing chief Ed Rezak said that transgender models don’t belong in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
But as the first black, transgender, disabled model to sign to Elite Model Management, Philip is triumphantly proving people like Rezak wrong. She’s modeled for Paper Magazine and ASOS.com, and while she may not consider herself an activist, her tweets (which can be found at @aaronphilipxo) tackle difficult topics and realities in intelligent, honest ways.
Alba Alvarado, 19
Credit: Planned Parenthood
While attending high school in San Rafael, California, Alba Alvarado decided she needed to address the issue of unplanned teen pregnancy, something that had caused several of her peers to drop out of high school. She explained all of this in an interview with Planned Parenthood: “My freshman year, around 12 girls became pregnant and left school. That’s how normalized unplanned teen pregnancy was—especially for Latinas, who often have less access to affordable health care.”
In order to combat this inaccessibility, Alvarez took matters into her own hands. She distributed condom and STI pamphlets throughout her school district, wrote and pitched a policy to her school board, and urged them to install condom dispensers in the restrooms. Eventually, Alvarado’s proposal passed, and the National Coalition of STD Directors and Trojan donated 20,000 condoms to the San Rafael school district to make Alvarado’s vision a reality. She is now a student at Wesleyan University, and you can follow her journey at @alba_alvarado on Instagram.