Seattle's Child

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Kimaya Mahajan, 16, helped organize the U.S. Youth Climate Strike in 2019 and now works with Washington Youth For Climate Justice. Photos by Joshua Huston

Change makers: How 5 young activists are working to build a better Seattle

Kids are making a difference — and making their voices heard.

When 12-year-olds Kaz Hill and Miles Hagopian helped organize the Seattle Children’s March in June 2020, they didn’t expect their actions to have such a direct impact on the city of Seattle.

Inspired by the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Ala., the Seattle Children’s March aimed to raise awareness about racial injustice and demand anti-racist actions in Seattle schools and prisons. Drawing in thousands of participants from all over the greater Seattle area, the march gave rise to groups like Youth Activists for Systemic Change, of which Kaz and Miles are both members.

But Kaz and Miles aren’t the only youth in Seattle playing active roles in their community.

In September 2019, then 14-year-old Kimaya Mahajan helped organize the U.S. Youth Climate Strike in Washington, serving as emcee to raise awareness about climate justice. These days, Kimaya, now 16, primarily works with Washington Youth For Climate Justice. She also collaborates with other organizations like Eastside 4 Black Lives and the Emerald Youth Organizing Collective.

Kaz, Miles and Kimaya are part of a growing number of Seattle-area youth actively participating in social issues and making positive changes in their communities. Energized by the momentum of movements like Black Lives Matter, and inspired by prominent youth activists like Greta Thunberg, these youth demonstrate that you’re never too young to make a difference.

Kaz Hill, Alexis Mburu and Miles Hagopian aim to raise awareness about racial injustice and demand anti-racist actions in Seattle schools and prisons.

Gaining new perspectives from activism

For Tristan Bonniol, 17, volunteering at Food Lifeline is a tangible way for him to address poverty in Seattle. He initially started volunteering as part of his community service requirements for Seattle Public Schools.

However, since then, he consistently volunteers at the food bank twice a week, sorting food at the warehouse.

“Every time I finish a session,” Tristan remarks, “they tell me how many tons of food I’ve sorted. It just puts into perspective for me how much I’m really doing for the community.”

Sixteen-year-old Alexis Mburu, who serves on the Youth Advisory Board of Washington Ethnic Studies Now and is a member of the NAACP Youth Council, echoes this sentiment. She explains how her activism helps ground her in her community and inspires her to take on new projects.

“It adds a new perspective to all of the work that I do,” she says. “It gives me a sense of motivation in life that I didn’t necessarily have before.”

But being a youth activist isn’t always easy.

Kimaya remembers all the missteps she made when she first started organizing in 2019.

“We didn’t really know what we were doing,” she recalls. “We definitely made a lot of mistakes back then.”

For many, the breadth of issues that exist, ranging from environmental conservation to social justice, can make the efforts of activism seem futile.

“It’s not as simple as one small success of a bill being passed or a policy being overturned,” Kimaya states. “When you look at the scope of the issues that we’re dealing with, it’s really overwhelming. It reminds you how much work there’s still left to do.”

Despite the challenges, youth like Kimaya and Miles continue their activism because they know they are the future stewards of their community.

“In this time, it’s necessary that youth take action,” says Miles. “If we don’t, nobody will.”

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Tristan Bonniol feels that volunteering at Food Lifeline is a tangible way to address poverty in Seattle.

Inspiring youth to get involved

For youth who are interested in activism, Kimaya recommends starting with learning about the issues. Take time to identify what needs aren’t being met in the community.

Tristan suggests starting as early as possible to help youth cultivate a sense of identity as activists. It’s also important for youth to realize that their voices do matter, Alexis adds.

“Everyone has a place in activism,” Alexis explains. “Everyone has unique experiences that should be put into the conversation.”

And how can parents, teachers and guardians encourage activism in their own children?

As with any activity, showing genuine support and validation can strengthen your child’s confidence in their identity as activists.

“My mom always tells me how important it is, the stuff I’m doing,” Kaz shares proudly.

Being a parent who also engages in activism themselves can be a plus. This type of modeling behavior goes a long way in inspiring kids to become involved in the issues they care about.

“My dad is a longtime activist,” reveals Miles, “so he’s always giving me good advice on ways to organize in the community.”

But even if parents are not actively involved in community organizing or volunteering, they can still show support to their kids by offering rides or helping them get supplies for events or projects.

These youth represent the next generation of leaders in Seattle, and beyond. Observing the impact they make in the greater Seattle community today provides a glimpse into the change makers they will surely become in the future.

And that’s something to inspire us all.

This story was originally published on May 1, 2021.

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Astrid Vinje

Astrid Vinje writes about family travel on her blog, The Wandering Daughter (