- Phoenix Medley
Three Activists Who Inspire My Soul
Updated: May 20, 2021
In recent years, there has been a spike in youth activism. Young voices all around the world are making themselves heard, advocating for racial and gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and climate change. I want to recognize three young people for their work in all sectors of the fight for social justice and civil rights. They had the courage to speak up for what they believe in, and have initiated real change.
Founder of the Rise Up Climate movement, and the first Fridays for Future climate activist in her home of Uganda, 23 year old Vanessa Nakate fights fiercely in the name of our planet. She focuses on Uganda and other African countries, where climate change is hitting hardest. In January of 2019, Nakate stood alone outside of Uganda’s Parliament, protesting for the rights of the Earth. She has participated in almost 60 Fridays for Future protests since then.
Her work has not come without its difficulties. Despite places such as Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia being hit hardest by global warming, the faces representing the fight against climate change have been mostly white. In 2020, Nakate attended the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with other activists such as Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson. A photo was taken of the five of them, but when the Associated Press posted the picture, she was cut out of the frame. In response to this incident she said:
“Many of us haven’t spoken out because it isn’t unusual to us. Environmental activism has been framed as Europe influencing the world – not the other way around. We’ve become used to our perspectives being excluded.”
Nakate continues her fight for the climate, making an effort to prioritize those in Africa who are going to be hit the hardest.
Originally from Sierra Leone, Kelvin Doe started his journey of activism at age ten by helping out his local community. After noticing the constant electricity issues found in his hometown of Freetown, Doe gathered scrap metal and discarded mechanical parts to tinker with. BY 13, he had made his own battery, which was used to power homes in the area. He continued to experiment, eventually creating a radio and everything needed for a local radio station, which he ran under the name DJ Focus.
Doe went on to be recognized by M.I.T., and was the youngest person ever invited to M.I.T.’s Visiting Practitioner’s Program at 16. In 2013, he was offered the opportunity to give a TEDxTeen talk. He has worked with several organizations such as a Canadian wifi company, where he tested solar technology. In 2016, he became a board member of Emergency USA where he worked to provide the impoverished and those affected by war free medical care. He became the founder of the Kelvin Doe foundation, which works to encourage and inspire young African innovators. Now 24, he lives in Canada where he focuses mainly on his own education.
Oluwatoyin Salau was a 19 year old activist native to Tallahassee, Florida. She advocated for the inclusion of queer and female issues in the conversation about black inequality. Footage quickly spread of her speaking at a protest in honor of Tony McDade, a black trans man who was a victim of police brutality. Salau worked with the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, and one of its founders, Trish Brown, described Salau as “a strong, young black female leader...and a powerful speaker.”
Salau also took her activism to social media by sharing her story of sexual assault on Twitter. Shortly thereafter, Salau was reported missing and later found dead.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke out about the travesty on Twitter saying,
“Heart-wrenching. Oluwatoyin Salau used her voice to fight for the Black community and speak out against injustice. She was only 19 and had her whole life ahead of her. We must do better to protect Black women and value their lives. #JusticeForToyin”
As a queer person of color, Salau’s unfortunate passing is devastating to me. It only further reflects the lack of support there is for female and queer black people, not only from the non-black population, but even from the inside of the movement. Salau’s courageous activism has and will continue to inspire a generation of black female and queer activists to speak out against the injustices they face.
These three incredible activists are an inspiration to me. I’m always trying to learn more about how I can make a difference in my community, and how I can support minorities in their fight for equal rights. It is imperative that we stay educated, do our research, and actively listen--to all people. We must especially stand alongside people who know injustice firsthand. This is how we make progress as a society.
Phoenix Medley, age 16, began volunteering with SEED Impact in 2020. She connects with SEED Impact’s client-partners and researches topics of interest. She enjoys writing to support their work, and as a way of drawing more attention to their passion, vision, challenges, and life-giving outcomes.