14 Incredible Kids Who Changed the World in the Last Decade
For Absolutely Incredible Kid Day on March 19, children and adults alike will be inspired by the amazing accomplishments of today’s youth.
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Kids can make a difference
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Anne Frank. Mozart. Louis Braille. History is full of young people who astounded the world with their thoughts and creations. Although we might think of the newest generation of kids as lazy, the youngsters on our list prove the children of today are as motivated and passionate as young people have ever been. But Absolutely Incredible Kid Day, founded by the youth organization Camp Fire, isn’t just about famous kids: Its goal is to remind all young people of their awesomeness. So take a moment today to tell a child in your life they’re special and then get them inspired to change the world by sharing the stories of these incredible kids. You can also try these 50 tiny but powerful ways to encourage your kids every day.
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A top contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, 17-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg was also last year’s TIME‘s Person of the Year. She started out by missing class to protest alone in front of the Swedish parliament as a “school strike” for climate action—which ended up inspiring millions to demonstrate around the world. Just over a year later, she addressed global leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York City, which she arrived at by traversing the Atlantic in a zero-emissions sailboat. Thunberg’s biggest accomplishment is in motivating regular people like herself, as well as governments, to rally and take action to save the planet. She’s one of the 11 young women about to change history.
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After distributing food to the homeless with his aunt, young Jahkil Jackson from the South Side of Chicago established Project I Am to give out “Blessing Bags,” which contain essentials like soap, toothbrushes, and socks, to the homeless—all at the tender age of 8 years old. Now 12, Jackson’s group has helped over 35,000 people in need around the world. Also a motivational speaker and youth ambassador for several other organizations, Jackson strives to get young people involved in their communities on a local and global level. Among his many honors, he was acknowledged for his work by President Barack Obama and named a hero by Marvel’s Hero Project. Sharing his example of what’s possible can be a way to build your children’s self-esteem.
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As a girl, Malala Yousafzai was no longer allowed to attend school when the Taliban took control of her village in Pakistan. So, she wrote about her experiences and spoke out for girls’ right to learn—and was shot in the head for her actions in 2012 when she was 15 years old. After surviving her horrific injury, she established the Malala Fund and became an activist for girls’ rights around the world. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 at age 17, the youngest person ever to achieve it. Currently, a student at Oxford University, Yousafzai continues in her work to promote girls’ right to education and put an end to gender discrimination. She’s one of the 30 women pioneers who changed the world.
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When he was just 3 years old, Ryan Hickman was inspired to collect recycling in his neighborhood after visiting a recycling plant in California. With the help of his parents, he founded Ryan’s Recycling Company in 2012 and become a viral sensation for his efforts to keep plastic out of the ocean. According to his company’s website, the now 10-year-old has recycled 809,000 cans and bottles and has donated over $10,000 to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center. He’s also saving the proceeds from his efforts to pay for college. Hickman recently visited Washington to promote a standardized labeling system to help eliminate recycling contamination in trash bins. His mom and dad probably used these 10 habits of parents with successful kids.
Bringing a little more joy to the world can make a kid incredible, which is exactly what Robby Novak, aka Kid President, did with his series of YouTube videos. Made with the help of his older brother-in-law, Kid President began in 2012 when Novak was just 8 years old in order to make the world less “boring” and more awesome by spreading messages of love and positivity. His outlook on life was inspiring, especially given that Novak has the brittle bone disease osteogenesis imperfecta, and his popularity grew. After taking a break to focus on school and just being a kid, Novak, now 16, has started a second YouTube series, a motivational travel show focusing on kids across the country. Try these acts of kindness you can do to change the world.
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For many people of color, particularly girls, it’s frustrating not to see themselves represented in the books they read. That’s exactly how 11-year-old Marley Dias felt about the books she was assigned in school. But she didn’t just want to find black female protagonists for her own reading—she wanted all black girls to have access to those stories as well. So in November 2015, she launched the campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks to collect and donate 1,000 books featuring black girls—and so far, she’s raised over 11,000. In 2018 at age 13, Dias published her own inspirational children’s book, Marley Dias Gets It Done—And So Can You. Check out more of the best children’s books ever written.
Melati and Isabel Wijsen
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These Indonesian sisters are on a mission to stop plastic bags from ending up in the ocean off their island of Bali. Indonesia is one of the world’s biggest polluters of marine plastic, so in 2013, the then 10- and 12-year-olds decided to do something about it after being inspired by a lesson in school on influential leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. They started a petition to get the government to take action on the plastic issue, organized beach cleanups—and even decided to go on a hunger strike as Gandhi did. That last action, publicized on social media, scored them a meeting with the governor. After years of working with local and international leaders, including speaking at the United Nations, the sisters made major progress when the Balinese government announced a law banning single-use plastic in 2019. The Wijsen sisters’ organization, Bye Bye Plastic Bags, also helps kids around the world start anti-plastic initiatives in their own communities. Check out the brilliant ways other countries are replacing plastic.
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Emma Gonzalez was a high-school senior when she survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people in 2018. She, along with other Parkland survivors, turned her horrific experience into action by speaking out against gun violence. After the shooting, she gave a speech that went viral and has since become part of the advocacy group Never Again MSD and March for Our Lives. She also encourages other young people to register to vote. By starting one of the biggest youth activist movements in recent history, Gonzalez has shown the impact and power young people can have on the country. Unfortunately, these are the undeniable facts about mass shootings in America.
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With Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Asperger’s syndrome, Jaylen Arnold always knew he was different. But when he was bullied at school for it, the then 8-year-old decided to take action on behalf of other bullied kids. He started a website for his classmates with the message, “Bullying No Way,” and the project immediately grew in leaps and bounds. The Jaylens Challenge Foundation now runs programs that teach kids how to recognize bullying and how to appreciate kids who are different. Arnold’s foundation is internationally recognized—he even was presented with The Diana Award for philanthropy by Princes William and Harry, the only American to have received the honor, in 2017 at the age of 16. Know the warning signs that your child is the bully.