Editor's note: This article was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
If you ask 17-year-old Fadumo Roble what she likes to do in her free time, her response will sound like that of your average teen: She loves hanging out with her friends, hiking and being out in nature; she likes dabbling in photography and other digital art forms. But when she begins to talk about her ideas and efforts for making change in her community, you quickly realize that this positive and thoughtful young woman is well above average. You might also wonder: How does she even have any free time?
A senior at Bellevue’s Interlake High School, Roble is doing Running Start and has a career aspiration to become a lawyer one day. She says that her interest in politics and social justice issues increased dramatically leading up to the divisive 2016 presidential election, especially when she and her friends started noticing concerning ripple effects in their school’s social dynamics. They decided they wanted to do something about it and founded Movement of Advocacy for Youth (MAY), a nonprofit dedicated to making sure that youth voices are heard.
Roble is also involved in the youth program at her mosque and in the Gates Foundation Discovery Center’s Youth Ambassadors Program (YAP), a service-learning program that educates, engages and empowers high school students to be changemakers. Along with her YAP peers, Roble had a hand in co-curating and planning “We the Future,” a new interactive exhibition celebrating youth leadership and action that is currently on view at the Discovery Center.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
What is the mission of your nonprofit?
I and four other individuals founded MAY to promote solutions for current social justice issues happening around us, as well as to give a voice to the youth. We believe that everyone is capable of making a change, despite any challenges they might face. Our goal is to take concerns that people around us have and build events dedicated to those topics.
Anything on the front burner for the organization right now, in terms of event planning?
We’re definitely working on more grant-making, because we want to take on an initiative around voting. A lot of us will be turning 18 or will be 18 by the time of the next presidential election. Although it is probably going to be a very glamorized, polarized, publicized election, we also want to bring awareness to local elections as well, because those are the ones that are going to affect us the most.
What would you say to other young people to encourage them to get involved in making change?
I always say start small and work up from there. Attend discussions or workshops about something you care about — those events are really big for making connections. Always focus on where your heart is — if you can take on more, take on more, but never overwork yourself to the point of burnout.
How do you think parents can support their kids’ interests in activism?
I’m a Black Muslim woman, so I feel like a lot of trials and tribulations that happened to me have come to define me and the things I’ve done and the things I want to do for my community. From my experience, I think my parents have always kept me exposed to the things happening around me. I know a parent’s number one job is to make sure their children are protected, but there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. And, sadly enough, sooner or later we eventually have to see the bad and the ugly. So, just support your child. Support and awareness, I feel, go so long, go so far.
Who has inspired you in your life to become involved in your community?
I would say my mom has made a huge, huge, huge, huge contribution to what I do today. Whenever she wasn’t working or dealing with her kids, she would contribute her time to the community. I think that was such a major building block for me. My whole family is a group of very hardworking individuals who really care about the people around them and care about the community, care about their family.
Growing up, you come across other people, too. My peers who do amazing things — that just motivates me. We are our own support system; we can kind of push each other and bounce ideas off each other. And then there are adults you meet along the way. I guess I just love being supported by amazing men and women who are much older — they can tell that you care and they care, and it’s just an amazing dynamic.
Are you reading or studying anything right now that you’re finding particularly interesting?
I’m really interested in the law aspects of life, so I’ve been taking political science and criminal justice classes. I plan to study political science and then hopefully become a lawyer, though I’m not sure which area I really want to work in yet.
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