ACLU Announces Winners of 2007 Youth Activist Scholarship

April 19, 2007 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union announced today the winners of its Youth Activist Scholarship for 2007. Eleven high school seniors from across the country will each receive a $4,000 college scholarship in recognition of their outstanding work to protect civil liberties, especially for young people.


High School Seniors Nationwide Honored for Their Civil Liberties Work

Jacquieta Beverly
Ryan Brown
Elizabeth Esser-Stuart
Dinorah Flores-Pérez
Khalil Johnson
Kristen Liu
Ursula Mlynarek
Jessica Warner
Alexia Welch
Abby Wheeler
Lexy Whitman

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union announced today the winners of its Youth Activist Scholarship for 2007. Eleven high school seniors from across the country will each receive a $4,000 college scholarship in recognition of their outstanding work to protect civil liberties, especially for young people.

The award was first given in 2000 to honor the efforts of graduating seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties and civil rights through some form of student activism.

“In a time when our rights are being threatened and our core values undermined, it is inspiring to see young people stand up and defend our freedoms,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “This scholarship is one way the ACLU can recognize the bravery and determination of these young men and women who will be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Below are highlights of the accomplishments of this year’s winners, and quotes from their personal essays. For full profiles, essays and photos, click on the winners’ names below.

Jacquieta Beverly of Oakland, California has been involved in several civil liberties and social justice issues at Tennyson High School and beyond. She has started her own student organization to work against military recruitment at school, worked with a social action group to fight the under-funding of California schools, and been a passionate leader in a youth activist committee project at the ACLU of Northern California.

“I just want to keep doing what’s in my heart and that is to help fight against injustice that affects people’s rights.”

Ryan Brown, who attends the Denver School of the Arts in Denver, Colorado, expresses her passionate commitment to civil liberties through her documentary film work. Her first documentary, which won several awards, told the story of former Colorado governor Ralph Carr, who, during World War II, sacrificed his promising career by taking a stand against the internment of Japanese-Americans. Her current film project addresses the “school-to-prison pipeline” crisis prevalent in today’s urban schools.

“Carr has not left my mind. He is still here with me each time I open the newspaper to read about the Patriot Act or bills to limit the rights of immigrants. He is here when I write to my congresspeople about issues of civil and human rights. And he is here most of all when I think of how I want to live my life.”

Elizabeth Esser-Stuart of Northport, Alabama, who attends the Alabama School of Fine Arts, took action when the principal of her school forbade her and 14 other students from wearing t-shirts that said, “Gay? Fine by me.” After Elizabeth’s extraordinary efforts to protect the students’ constitutional rights, joining forces with the ACLU of Alabama, the principal agreed to let the students resume wearing the shirts.

“Participating in a positive change in my community helped me clarify my passion. Risk will lead me through the rest of my life, to research the government and human rights.”

At her fairly racially homogeneous high school, The Center School in Seattle, Washington, Dinorah Flores-Pérez became a leader of a group dedicated to ensuring that her school is supportive of all students, regardless of race. Dinorah has also been an organizer in a campaign to challenge the discriminatory effects of Washington’s standardized testing system.

“I feel that many people are underrepresented and have lost their voice. I think I am needed in order to make a difference and to be a voice. We all have the right to live comfortably without someone pushing down on us.”

Khalil Johnson, who attends S.V. Marshall High School in Lexington, Mississippi, began youth organizing when he joined an effort to end illegal dumping by documenting dumpsites and submitting a clean-up plan to the county board. The group’s actions resulted in the adoption of their clean-up recommendations and implementation of a waste management program. Khalil also works to improve many aspects of the school system in Holmes County, one of the poorest in the nation.

“Living in the house with parents that are actively involved with the social justice movement has given me the opportunity to exercise my rights. Not all youth get this chance in this county, so I feel it is my responsibility to help enable other youth to become leaders.”

Kristen Liu, who attends Bard High School Early College in New York City, was the only freshman to be chosen as a peer educator for the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Teen Health Initiative (THI), an outreach program that promotes minors’ rights to access to healthcare. She has helped develop a workshop, edited a newsletter, co-facilitated presentations to teens throughout New York City, and met with state lawmakers to advocate for reproductive rights.

“THI has expanded my ability to discuss a sensitive topic with my peers, while igniting my passion for sexual healthcare by introducing me to other important reproductive rights … Now I have the tools to help friends and strangers in critical times.”

Ursula Mlynarek of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has worked to fight military recruitment in schools, and has pioneered chapters of Amnesty International and Gay-Straight Alliance at Riverside University High School. She has organized anti-war rallies and created alliances between activist and peace groups.

“No longer is the time I spend on activism brought on a by a need to expand my list of extracurriculars. My life is dedicated to working for the world that I live in and for the people that I live with because it is a responsibility that I have claimed.”

Jessica Warner of Anchorage, Alaska, is the founding member and presiding officer of Bartlett High School’s Civil Liberties Club, and participates in the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. When Jessica was publicly chastised for not standing up for the national anthem, she waged a successful campaign for free expression in her school resulting in the awareness of students’ rights.

“I plan to major in political science and extend my activism with the ACLU into the future. But for now, I just hope that the “Stop the Abuse of Power” sign hanging in my window doesn’t fade and continues to translate into action.”

When Alexia Welch of Lawrence, Kansas found out that military recruiters had her personal information, she began a widespread research project on students’ rights regarding military recruitment in schools. This led to community dialogue, her work on a documentary, and changes in Lawrence High School’s student recruitment policies. Alexia has also raised awareness about safe sex and the emphasis on school testing.

“I do not believe that whether an act is big or small should be a determining factor in justice, but more or less the reasons behind the act and the change that one person or many can make, for themselves and for others, whether directly or widespread.”

As far back as junior high school, Abby Wheeler began an alternative online newspaper as a result of censorship by the school newspaper. Now attending Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Abby is an accomplished artist who has used her talent to raise consciousness about women’s rights, gender identity, free speech and youth rights. She is also President of the Youth Advisory Board of her local Youth Center.

“In the future I hope to inspire others to realize that each individual needs to be her or his own leader, to take responsibility and pool their resources to make the community work. In turn, the community needs to be strong to support and stimulate the individual.”

Lexy Whitman of Metamora, Illinois has been an active participant in the ACLU of Illinois’ Youth At Risk Project’s Heartland Safe Schools Initiative where she’s worked to raise awareness of the challenges faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students in the local community. She has also worked on starting a Gay-Straight Alliance at Washington Community High School.

“Activism is not only going out with picket signs and screaming at the top of your lungs, it is about trying to make a difference one way or another. This is what I have been doing over the past three years; it is what I intend to do for the rest of my life.”

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