December 23, 2020

Young people who gave us hope in 2020

Meet six young people who made this difficult year tolerable, and who inspire us to look forward to 2021.

For a generation of young people, 2020 should have been filled with graduation parties, college tours, and even first jobs. Instead, Generation Z was forced to adapt to drive-by celebrations, remote learning, and the uncertainty of life during a pandemic.

But even when faced with such upheaval, Gen Z did not give up. This year, many young people voted for the first time, participated in political protests, or even started their own businesses and nonprofits.

We had the good fortune to meet a handful of inspiring young people this year. Here are six whose remarkable stories give us hope for 2021.

Climate activist Kevin Patel

Kevin Patel founded One Up Action, a diverse, youth-led organization.

Kevin founded the nonprofit One Up Action in 2019. The organization provides resources and support to underrepresented youth who want to fight climate change in their communities.

Patel, who is from South Central Los Angeles and is currently a sophomore at Loyola Marymount University, told us how One Up helps young people address the climate crisis within their own communities. This is crucial when assistance and recovery efforts are not applied equally following climate disasters. “I wanted to make sure that BIPOC (Black, Indigneous, and people of color) young people are not only heard, but have the power to make decisions on behalf of their communities,” he said.

Emerging political leader Lucie Kneip

Notre Dame sophomore and aspiring policymaker Lucie Kneip spoke with us about patriotism, polarization, and her generation's activism.

Lucie is also a college sophomore and vice president of Notre Dame University’s chapter of Bridge USA, a student-run organization that seeks to develop the next generation of engaged citizens. She’s part of a team of dedicated students hoping to boost civic engagement and voter turnout among their Gen Z peers.

Especially in a year beset by polarization and misinformation, Lucie is committed to advancing constructive political dialogue among her fellow students. “I think that my generation has a responsibility and the capability—I want to stress that we do have the capability—to create a sense of civic duty in Americans,” she told us.

Social justice activist Nedim Yusuf

Returning home from an international trip with fellow students, Nedim Yusuf was separated from his group by U.S. Customs agents. Now, the rising high school senior is turning the experience into something positive.

Nedim is a teen based in D.C., and through the nonprofit LearnServe, he used his personal experience of being racially profiled at the airport to support others who may have been marginalized.

After being detained upon returning home from a trip abroad, Nedim designed a website to provide student travelers with resources for situations when going through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. “I hope to build a sense of community so other students know that they are not alone—there are others out there with similar experiences,” he said.

Social entrepreneur Jack Griffin

Jack Griffin launched FoodFinder when he was in high school. Now a college grad, he's working to connect even more people to nearly 50,000 food assistance centers across the country.

As a recent college grad, Jack launched the app FoodFindr to help people find food pantries near them. FoodFinder is designed for use by all the faces of hunger, he wrote. Especially now when so many are dealing with food insecurity—college students, families struggling due to the COVID-19 crisis, homebound seniors, and anyone in need.

The app directs people to a multitude of resources. It’s not just pantries themselves, but schools, churches, and community centers. FoodFinder also provides relevant information, like if a location requires a photo ID or also provides clothing or shelter. “To truly move the needle on hunger, we need to take different approaches,” he said.

Nonprofit founder Jameson Cohen

Jameson Cohen started a virtual resource, called Circle of Friends, for parents who need a little extra help looking after their kids during lockdown.

Online learning is difficult for many, especially younger students who might need extra attention and support. So 17-year-old Jameson started Circle of Friends to connect high school students with children of frontline workers.

“It’s virtual, but it’s still bringing people together, from anywhere in the world, to talk about what they love and share that passion,” he said.

Future teacher Christina

Christina works at the nonprofit bookstore More Than Words in Waltham, Massachusetts. As part of the youth workforce at the organization, she helps run every single aspect of the business.

When the pandemic started, Christina, a high school junior, admitted she felt completely lost. “All of a sudden everything shifted in a way I wasn’t prepared for,” she wrote. Being her family’s breadwinner was an extra burden for her to carry. That’s when her More Than Words family stepped in, providing guidance, support, and friendship. They also helped encourage Christina to pursue her dream of becoming an art teacher.

“More Than Words made it clear to me that I could do so much more,” she said. “They let me believe in myself again.”

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