Mary-Pat Hector sees herself involved in politics 10 years from now—after earning her degree from UCLA.
The eighth-grader is on a path that could see those dreams come to fruition. She founded the youth-led activist group Youth in Action about a year ago. Since then, through promotion on Facebook, YIA has grown to 12 chapters across Georgia.
Hector is in the process of organizing a national conference that will bring together youth groups from across the county in the early part of 2011. Hector said she has been inspired and influenced by several women in her life, including her mother Kathie Nesbitt, and Dr. Leslie Ashlock, the founder of Stone Mountain’s Solid Foundation school.
“The more I open my eyes and see the things all these women are doing, it motivates me,” Hector said. “My mom owns several day care centers and Dr. Ashlock owns our school. The women I’m surrounded with are independent and strong.”
The 12-year-old has emerged over the past year as a nationally recognized advocate for youth.
Consider her portfolio:
•Participating earlier this year in the “Reclaim the Dream” march in Washington, D.C., led by Rev. Al Sharpton, where more than 100,000 people participated.
•Appearing on Sharpton’s radio show.
•Blogging on Russell Simmons’ hip hop Web site, www.globalgrind.com.
•Participating in a forum on a CNN segment called “Fixing Our Schools.”
•Speaking engagements, including the National Black Power Convention in Atlanta and a youth conference in Gwinnett County.
She is quick to point out that her organization goes beyond skin color.
“Dr. King’s message was about peace, not race,” Hector said. “That’s what I believe Youth in Action is about. That’s what I want people to see.”
She organized the group’s first big peace march last year. YIA marched along Memorial Drive from the county jail to the Tupac Center to protest gang violence in the area.
“A lot of our peers are dying and there’s nothing to do for kids in Stone Mountain except get into trouble,” Hector said. “We wanted to let people know that gang violence is an issue.”
Her Facebook bio underscores her mission. It reads, “I am the founder and President of Youth in Action, a coalition of youth and young adults who are dedicated to changing the world one project at a time. I am 12 years old but still a revolutionary.”
After forming the group, Hector started a Facebook page where she continually encourages others to start a YIA chapter in their area.
Each YIA chapter has its own focus, Hector said. The Solid Foundation chapter focuses on fatherless children and education, she said. The group’s national focus is violence and childhood obesity.
“A lot of juvenile behavior is based on being fatherless,” said Solid Foundation administrator Darius Ashlock. “The kids end up in our court system. We need to bring fathers into the picture and encourage then to stay in their children’s life.”
It is an issue that Hector deals with regularly.
“All my friends don’t live with their fathers,” Hector said. “When things like this happen to friends, I either write or do something about it.”
Nowadays Hector has plenty of help. Since YIA has grown, Solid Foundation has created a class around the group. There are 57 Solid Foundation students who are members of YIA and a separate Stone Mountain chapter has 62 members.
“Her message is something that should impact a generation and cause them to hear information to change their environment,” Ashlock said.
The group will hold its first national conference—which is being organized by Hector early next year–possibly around the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday or President’s Day, Hector said. The Hear Our Voices Youth in Action youth conference has generated interest from youth groups across the country, and Hector said Sharpton’s group—the National Action Network—may partner with YIA at the conference.
Hector’s mother estimates her daughter attends a rally, speaking engagement, conference or other method to get the message out about once a week.
“The most important thing is helping people,” Hector said. “What really makes me happy is when people come up to me and listen to what I have to say—not because of how old I am, but because I have a strong message. I get excited when that happens.”