In the two weeks since the Parkland mass school shooting, several of the students have risen to prominence in advocating for gun control measures. Emma Gonzalez gave an impassioned speech at a gun control rally just two days after the shooting and has since racked up a serious social media following (1.1 million Twitter followers and counting). She and fellow prominent student activist David Hogg have been interviewed by several national news outlets and, with several other Parkland students, participated in a much-watched CNN town hall discussion with an NRA spokeswoman and Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. The survivors of the school shooting are not fading into the background, as has happened in the past, but are rising in prominence as important voices in the gun control debate. While it remains to be seen whether these student activists can bring about real change, history says not to bet against them. Young people—and even teenagers—are often the agents of change in this world. Here are three teenagers who have changed the world, whose ranks Emma, David, and the other Parkland survivors hope to join soon.
Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani activist for female education rights and the youngest over Nobel Prize laureate, winning the Peace Prize in 2014 at the age of 17. In 2009, the 11-year-old Malala began blogging for the BBC Urdu website about the life of a schoolgirl in Pakistan after the Taliban banned girls from attending school. She soon started to appear on television and in print to advocate for female education. A Taliban gunman attempted to murder Malala, shooting her in the head. The worldwide media coverage of the shooting led to widespread protests, with millions of Pakistanis signing a petition which led to the ratification of a Right to Education Bill in the country. When Malala recovered, she continued to advocate for rights for girls, meeting with Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth, writing an international best-selling memoir, and founding the Malala Fund, which works to increase educational access for girls across the world.
Barbara Rose Johns was an African American student at a segregated school in rural Virginia. In 1951, the 16-year-old high school junior organized a strike to protest the deplorable conditions of her school compared to an all-white school across town. Johns and other student leaders sought the assistance of the NAACP's legal team and filed a suit against the schoolboard attacking segregation. This suit, along with four others, became part of the seminal decision in Brown v. Board of education, ending segregated schools in the U.S. The protest Johns led was the only student-initiated fight involved in the suit and was one of the first actions to spark the Civil Rights Movement. The Virginia Office of the Attorney General is named after Johns and when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe forcefully condemned the United the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017, he did so standing in front of a portrait of Johns.
Louis Braille was a 19th Century Frenchman who lost his eyesight from an infected injury when he was three years old. As a boy, he learned to read by feeling raised letters, though blind students were not able to learn to write in this system, reading took a considerable time, and the books were heavy and expensive to produce. When he was 12 years old, he learned a secret military code that used raised dots and dashes, which inspired Braille to invent his own raised-dot system. At just 15 years old, Braille invented the writing system that bears his name, which allowed blind students to learn to read and write, was much simpler and faster to read, and could be produced for much less money. Braille’s writing system eventually became the standard reading and writing system for the blind and is still in use today.
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