What Student Activists Naomi Wadler And Nupol Kiazolu Want You To Know

"I think it's so fulfilling, and it's so rewarding to be able to say, ‘This Black girl looks up to me.'"

Eleven-year-old activist Naomi Wadler — who led an elementary school walkout to protest gun violence and spoke about the way gun violence disproportionately affects Black women and girls at the March for Our Lives — can't sit still. She buzzes with excitement and speaks at breakneck speeds reminiscent of a real-life Arya Stark. Her enthusiasm is not only palpable, but voluminous, filling up the room at the DoSomething gala.

It's a big night for her and fellow student activist, Nupol Kiazolu, the 17-year-old president of the Black Lives Matter youth chapter, both of whom are being honored as part of the organization's Inspirational 25

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In between photo ops, Wadler explains her mission: to inspire Black girls to realize their worth and know that they can do anything. Similarly, Kiazolu advocates for the "womanist" movement, created by Black women and women of color who seek a more inclusive alternative to the way feminism is currently colonized by White women. "I believe in equality for women and everything, but I identify as a womanist because of how colonized feminism is... I don't like the divide. I would like for us to be really, truly intersectional," Kiazolu told A Plus. "So intersectional feminism, to me, would be really coming together as a collective and not only using Black women and women of color as props to push your agenda... Giving Black women not only a seat at the table, but a voice." 

Nupol Kiazolu speaking at the DoSomething gala.  Photo Courtesy of DoSomething

For Wadler, the table that led to a national stage at the March for Our Lives was her dinner table. With a White mother and a Black father, race relations were everyday dinner conversation that prepared Wadler to take on a world she knew, as a young Brown girl, would not always look kindly upon her. 

But that's why she believes every parent, regardless of skin tone, should have these conversations with their children. "It is your decision on how to parent, but I think that, at some point, you should have this conversation so that they [your children] don't go out into the world thinking that everything is perfect and… everybody lives together in harmony because that's not the way it is," she said. "There are White supremacists. There are neo-Nazis. And so if they encounter that thinking the world is perfect, imagine what's gonna happen to them. Imagine how that's going to destroy them." 

Though she understands these conversations may be "difficult," she knows that is exactly what makes them worth having. "I think that it's definitely harder — it might be really hard for Latino families, for Black families, for Muslim families, for Asian families, telling [their kids] that people won't like them. Some people will not like them," she continued. "And that's hard, as a child to take in... I've thought that: 'People aren't going to like me because I'm Brown,' [but] I think it's definitely a good thing to talk about." 

Naomi Wadler speaking at the DoSomething gala.  Photo Courtesy of DoSomething

While Wadler has just begun her journey as an activist, Kiazolu has been on this path since she was 13 — and she's not about to stop now. "This is a lifelong thing. Some people have this idea that activists do it for a couple years, or maybe just high school, but oh no, I've committed my life to this," she said. As the high school senior heads to Hampton University, an HBCU in Virginia, this fall, she plans to major in political science with a concentration in pre-law. After she finishes school, Kiazolu plans to return to her home in Brooklyn to become a civil rights attorney and a politician. 

"I come from an impoverished community. You know, I'm not rich at all. I live in one of the worst towns in New York... it's really hard and it's not a lot of hope in my area because conditions are so terrible, but my words give a lot of people inspiration for the future and actual hope," she said. "... I have a huge following in my neighborhood because people see me out there, day after day, really, really fighting for us, showing up to the town halls, challenging these council members as to what they're doing with [the community's] money. Where are they circulating it? Because we're not seeing it." 

She feels that it's up to her to speak up about the issues that affect her and her neighbors every day because if she doesn't, who will? "I have to be the one to challenge the status quo, and a lot of people really admire me for that and respect me," she added. "And the fact that they do is very humbling because I don't do it for the notoriety or recognition… but I'm grateful." 

Nupol Kiazolu Photo Courtesy of DoSomething

Neither Wadler and Kiazolu are willing to wait for change because they know they — and the people they're fight for — can't afford to. "I tell people that I'm an activist, they're like, 'Oh, that's so cute. Keep doing what you're doing, OK? You're doing great.' And I'm like, 'I don't need your encouragement. I don't need your permission to go and be an activist,'" Wadler said. "... I think realizing and understanding your power and impact that you can, and will, have if you do this is really an important step." 

Knowledge of her own power, even when it feels limited, also fuels Kiazolu — even on the toughest days. As a survivor of domestic violence, she and her family lived in New York City's homeless shelters for some time. But that never stopped her from going out into the city and advocating for change on the ground level. "There were some days… I'd just come back to the shelter and just feel devastated. Just seeing my family look so sad and depressed, I was just like, 'Why am I even doing this?'" she said. "I'm putting my life on the line every single day, and I'm not seeing what I want to see immediately but then I had to smack myself out of it… I just tell myself, 'This is only temporary,' and when I view it in that way, it keeps me going… It made stronger... and it's made me even more strong to go out and help others and tell others my story." 

Naomi Wadler Photo Courtesy of DoSomething

One answer to Kiazolu's question, "Why am I even doing this?" may come from a surprising source: Wadler. "Why not?" she says to any young person questioning their ability to become an activist. "I've sat in here and said, 'I can't do this. I don't know what I'm talking about. They're never gonna listen to me. I'm 11 years old,' and then look at the impact I've made… " she said. "Why not?" 

It's not youthful idealism that asks this question, but simply the experience of being proven right. Both Wadler and Kiazolu have used their voices to speak for the Black girls and women who no longer can because of gun violence. "I think it's so fulfilling, and it's so rewarding to be able to say, 'This Black girl looks up to me,'" Wadler concluded. "It's partly my job to show her she can be whatever she wants to be."

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