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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
The most heartbreaking effects of war are on the children who grow up amidst danger and conflict. At just 7 years old on a Twitter account managed by her mother, Bana Alabed documented living through the siege of Aleppo, Syria, in 2016, telling the world about her wishes for a childhood of peace without fear. Her accounts from the front lines gave people a firsthand look at what war does to children and families. Her family eventually became refugees as they were evacuated to Turkey. Alabed continued to be an advocate for peace, and in 2018 Simon & Schuster published her book about her experiences, Dear World: A Syrian Girl’s Story of War and Plea for Peace.
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny
After a change in the water supply of Flint, Michigan, led to residents becoming sick and dying, something had to be done. Amazingly, then 8-year-old Mari Copeny drew the federal government’s attention to the water crisis with a letter to President Obama in 2016. When the president visited Flint after reading her letter, the spunky kid donned her beauty pageant sash for the meeting, earning her the nickname “Little Miss Flint.” The visit resulted in federal aid to help the crisis—but Copeny’s advocacy didn’t end there. She went on to fundraise over $500,000 for Flint and helped her community first by handing out bottled water and then more environmentally-friendly water filters. She’s also become involved with aiding underserved children and organizing community events. Her next goal? To run for president herself.
This young education advocate and filmmaker made her mark at the young age of 9 with her first short documentary, which was about the Ghana Revolution, as part of a filmmaking competition—and at 10 years old in 2013, became the youngest person ever to be featured in Forbes magazine. She gained more attention for the self-produced film she made in 2014 at the age of 12 called A Promising Africa, which profiled several African nations. Oduwole, who is American but whose parents are from Africa, began focusing her efforts on African girls’ education, interviewing heads of state and speaking at the UN. Oduwole also established Dream Up, Speak Up, Stand Up to spread the message to kids about the importance of education. Do you have a budding filmmaker? Find out the 11 signs your child could be gifted.
When U.K. teen Amika George read an article from the BBC about “period poverty,” which occurs when girls have to miss school because they can’t afford sanitary products, she decided to take action. George started the petition FreePeriods.org in 2017, which gained thousands of signatures in a short amount of time. Two years later, the British government announced that starting January 20, 2020, children and young women would be able to access free sanitary products in schools and colleges in England. But George hasn’t stopped campaigning to normalize periods and keep girls in school with accessible sanitary products: Now 19, she’s tackling period poverty globally as well.
After being stung twice by bees, then 4-year-old Mikaila Ulmer started learning about the little critters—only to discover honey bees are in danger. Coincidentally, her family had also received a cookbook of her great-grandmother’s recipes that included one for flaxseed lemonade. Young Ulmer thought that if she could make lemonade sweetened with honey from local beekeepers, she could help the bees. When her parents suggested she enter her lemonade in a local children’s business competition in her hometown of Austin, Texas, her product was a hit. She began her company, Me & The Bees Lemonade, donating a portion of the profits to organizations that save the bees. Now 14, Ulmer has found major success: Her lemonade is available at Whole Foods and other stores, plus she’s expanded her honey-infused product line and started her own bee-advocacy non-profit, Healthy Hive Foundation. Next, read on to check out more of the coolest things invented by kids.