10 examples of youth who turned their passions into their activism

Sneakerhead is an identity marker that James Green carries with pride.

In fact, James is so passionate about sneakers, his sneaker boxes have taken up all the room in his closet. Maintaining his inventory takes effort, especially when a sneaker becomes damaged and needs custom repair. Ever since James began collecting his first year of high school, he realized that it was challenging to find sneaker artists who could help him fix his custom sneakers.

James Green, FixmyKix

Naturally, James began to ask the question, “For the people who can’t get their shoes repaired, do they just throw away their shoes?” He learned that Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. Often made from rubber, plastics, and other petrochemical-derived, these shoes usually take 30 to 40 years to decompose. There must be a better solution for the shoe and the environment, James thought.

After attending Hidden Genius Project, which trains and mentors black male youth in entrepreneurship, technology creation, and leadership skills, James launched FixmyKix, an online marketplace that provides sneakerheads a platform to easily find craftspeople who specialize in custom shoe restoration and repairs. James is also using this platform to mobilize young people to learn about sneaker art and entrepreneurship.

Jean Black, who’s also from Oakland, had a similar story of using her passion to inspire her activism.

Growing up, Jean found many distressing images and representations of people that looked like her on television. She understood media to be a powerful mechanism because of whose story gets told and whose story gets mistold. Jean, therefore, thought to work from within media to make a difference. She’s a filmmaker in Oakland putting diverse faces in front of and behind the camera.

But, Jean didn’t stop there. Jean founded Black Camera Productions, which supports and builds community for People of Color through the distribution of positive, solution-based media, the development of technical visual art skills, and the employment of community members in paid positions for their artistry. Jean and her organization are developing a summer camp program for Black and Brown youth in Oakland that engages them in aspects of film production.

Jean Black, Black Camera Productions

James and Jean are only two of the most recently funded projects from California Youth Rising, a philanthropic partnership between The Pollination Project & The California Endowment. Here are the others:

Anisah Kabbara, Native American Student Garden, Riverside, California. This project has cultivated a garden plot in UC Riverside and turned it into a biologically and culturally native garden.

Isaiah Johnson, Project Beanstalk, Oakland, California. Creates video games that include people from underrepresented backgrounds and also creates programs to encourage people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in the game industry.

Jonathan Edzant, The “Serving Me” Gallery, San Diego, California. Produces a photography gallery exploring gender, identity, and self expression.

Gloria Campos, Housing and Healing-Video Project, Los Angeles, California. Documents the realities and stories of a community impacted by gentrification through a video project led by high school students in Highland Park.

Aaron Moore, Almar Vegan Pop Up, Compton, California. Offers communities of color an alternative to animal-based food products, and brings these options to them using pop ups.

Alejandro Lopez, Toto: Turtle, San Rafael, California. Hosts a healing and expressive arts group with Latino/Chicano/Indigenous middle school boys.

Perhaps you, too, have something you’re passionate about. Share with us some ways your passion can turn into your activism. If you’re between the ages of 15–24, we may be able to support your idea through The California Youth Rising Grants program. Complete our interest form, and a member from our Outreach Team will reach out if there are funds still available from The California Youth Rising Program