These 5 Black Teen Activists Are Making All of Our Futures Better

From working in Flint, Michigan to protecting animals and following impressive footsteps, these kids give us so much to look forward to.

By Sherri McGee McCovey

As so many parents know, hope for the future is in our children’s hands. These five kid activists are taking their parents’ dreams literally, working hard to make the world a better place today and for years to come. Read more for everything they’re working on.

Mari Copeny, 14

Water/Climate Activist, Flint, Michigan

Mari Copeny was just eight years old when she used her small voice to bring attention to a big problem—the lead water crisis in her hometown of Flint, Michigan. Instead of feeling helpless, Mari marched and protested to speak up for the children. She soon became known as “Little Miss Flint” and penned a letter to then-President Barack Obama asking to meet him or First Lady Michelle Obama while on a trip to Washington D.C. To her surprise, the president responded to her letter and said he looked forward to meeting her during his visit to Flint and highlighted her activism during his speech. That visit ultimately led to the president approving $100 million dollars in relief for the city.  

That was six years ago.

Now fourteen, Mari remains on the front lines of social justice and continues the fight for clean drinking water, not only for Flint but other cities in need of it. In 2017, she participated in the Women’s March on Washington as a national youth ambassador and speaker, and spoke twice at the March for Science, sharing how the Flint water crisis has affected her community. According to Mari’s website, she has given away over a million bottles of water. But she takes the most pride in pivoting away from single-use bottled water to partnering with a company (Hydroviv) to produce her very own water filter, which is shipped all over the country to those that are facing toxic drinking water. To date, she has raised over $600,000 towards her $1,000,000 goal.

On her website, Mari declares that she will be president by 2044. “My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us.”

Sidney Keys III, 16

Literacy Advocate, Atlanta, Georgia

Growing up in St. Louis, Sidney Keys III loved to lose himself in books. What he didn’t like was that many of the books he enjoyed reading didn’t have stories, or faces on the covers, like his. Perhaps it was because statistics show that boys don’t score well in literacy. Keys set out on a mission to make reading fun for his peers. At 10 years old, he started Books N Bros, the first and only youth-led monthly book club for Gen Z Black boys that now has members throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe. The club’s motto is, “Cool Bros Read.” By the time he turned 11, Sidney had been featured on CNN

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Books N Bros monthly subscription boxes include, at minimum, one African American book that explores stories curated just for them from African American authors, a curriculum that corresponds with the book, reading supplies, and other fun trinkets. Now a high schooler living in Atlanta, Georgia, Keys conducts monthly meetup events virtually and in person.

“Seeing a Black boy on the cover of a book who looked like me let me know I could do anything. Being able to see yourself and relate was something I wanted for more Black boys like me,” Keys has said.

As Keys grew, so, too, did his mission to make reading cool for teens. At the top of the year, the teen entrepreneur released his first publication, Books N Bros: 44 Inspiring books for Black Teen Boys, a compilation of titles from classic fiction to fantasy, graphic novels to history books.

When he isn’t reading, Keys enjoys gaming and photography. His future goal is to become an entrepreneur and continue to be a future leader.

Genesis Butler, 15

Environmental/Animal Rights Activist, Long Beach California

When Genesis Butler was six years old, she asked her mother where her chicken nuggets came from. When it was explained that animals had to be killed so that she could enjoy her favorite meal she vowed to never eat an animal again. 

“I’m a vegan for the animals,” she says on her website. “Because they deserve to live in peace, too.” Genesis delivered that message as one of the youngest people to ever give a TEDx talk. It was called, “A 10-Year-Old’s Vision for Healing the Planet” and in it, she shared a message about the negative impact of animal agriculture on the world. 

Speaking truth to power runs in Genesis’s family. Her great-uncle was labor leader and civil rights activist, Cesar Chavez. Today, the Afro-Indigenous animal rights activist/environmentalist is the founder of Genesis For Animals, a non-profit that provides funding to sanctuaries and rescues that provide animals with permanent homes. She also works with dozens of nonprofits to promote a plant-based diet, including Farm Sanctuary, the Humane Society of the United States, and Mercy for Animals. Genesis’s passion for animals was recognized when she was honored as the face of the 2019 GenV Million Dollar Vegan campaign. Disney+ also featured Genesis’s work on an episode of Marvel’s Hero Project.

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In 2020, when the pandemic hit, the Long Beach native didn’t let it stifle her work. She started Youth Climate Save, a youth-led movement that now has 73 chapters in 22 countries and growing. YCS’s platform focuses on the impact animal agriculture has on climate change. It has led her to speak globally and in front of Sacramento legislators as part of a successful effort to pass a California law mandating plant-based food options in all prisons, hospitals, and nursing homes, and raising money to fund animal sanctuaries.

Kheris Rogers, 16

Beauty Activist, Los Angeles, California

At 10, Kheris Rogers was bullied by classmates because of her richly melanated skin. Instead of wallowing in the hate and hurt, the enterprising preteen turned the taunting from peers into Flexin’ in My Complexion, an empowering clothing line of hoodies, t-shirts, and tote bags. The line blew up after Grammy Award-winner Alicia Keys posted a picture of Kheris on her Instagram page with the caption: “I love this beautiful girl @kherispoppin and I love her mission! Keep shining.”  

Shine she has. Since then, the beauty activist and CEO has inspired confidence in countless other beautiful Black girls on her various social media platforms with affirmations, positive advice, and gear that builds self-esteem. “Beauty has nothing to do with the outside,” Kheris has said. “It has to do with your inside by being nice, smart, and creative. Being beautiful means confidently knowing that you’re enough just the way you are. When I look at myself in the mirror, I say nice things like, ‘I am smart. I am kind. I am confident.’ It’s empowering.”

In 2020, Flexin’ in my Complexion earned a Shorty Award nomination. The Shortys honors the most innovative work globally in digital and social media by brands, agencies, nonprofits, and creators and Kheris landed an acting role as “Bel” on the popular Brat Network series Chicken Girls. Last year, she added the title author to her growing list of accomplishments with the release of her children’s book, “Shine Bright” published by Harper Collins. Beauty and brains win every time. Kheris Rogers is truly flexin’ on her haters with over 300,000k social media followers, and she looks beautiful doing it. 

Michael C. Platt, 17

Food Justice Advocate, Bowie, Maryland

It might be hard to believe that 1 in 8 kids in America is at risk of hunger, but it is a crisis that is all too real. Helping to eradicate it is a mission for Bowie, Maryland teen baker Michael Platt. Michael fell in love with baking at nine years old after he was diagnosed with epilepsy and turned to it to help manage his condition. Today, Michael’s signature desserts not only taste good—they do good in the world.    

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At six, Platt asked his parents, who are educators and community advocates, about social injustice. At 11, they gifted him a pair of TOMS shoes. After studying TOMS’ 1-for-1 business model, Michael decided to follow it and began a baking business called Michael’s Desserts, donating a dessert to someone in need for every dessert that he sells. To date, Michael’s Desserts has served countless people in need of food.  

He was one of 11 kid bakers featured on the Food Network show, Kids Baking Championship, and led a TedX talk called Kids Can Solve Big Problems

Michael is also the founder of the non-profit P.L.L.A.T.E (Power, Love, Learning and, Access, to Everyone) whose single goal is to make the world a better place for all by getting healthy delicious food to everyone. The organization teaches people how to grow their own produce in small spaces, and how to cook and eat under a budget. Michael started a Gofundme to provide children facing food insecurity with snack packs that is nearing its $6,000 goal. His vision for P.L.L.A.T.E is to one day create a pay-what-you-can grocery store that will also offer budget grocery shopping seminars as well as small space gardening seminars.

Michael is also the author of a cookbook, Michael’s Desserts: Sweets for a Cause which continues his mission with more than 45 recipes and works with No Kid Hungry and GivingTuesdaySpark. 

“I believe kids can choose a problem they are passionate about and help solve it. I chose hunger,” he says.

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