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Young activism takes root in Harlem

YACINE SIMPORÉ Special to the AmNews | 9/21/2011, 3:44 p.m.
Young activism takes root in Harlem

Victoria Pannell is 12 years old, was born and raised in Harlem and is just beginning the seventh grade. She is passionate about writing and says, "I usually choose a moment in history that interests me and rewrite it in the way I want to." When she isn't writing, she practices martial arts and hangs out with her friends after school.

At first glance, she is just like any other kid her age. Who would guess that this young girl is an activist? Unlike most others her age, this girl has a strong and active commitment to her community.

Indeed, only knee-high to a grasshopper, she is the director of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network Youth Division and wants to change the "no snitching" mantra to one that is more open and helpful to the community.

Pannell's sense of commitment and solidarity with her community comes naturally as she grew up with the Black activist movement. She said, "Because my parents are involved in the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, I've had the occasion to assist in rallies since I was a child. I had no way to escape being engaged in an activist movement, but I think it's a good thing."

The first meeting of her group was held on Aug. 28 this year. About 15 children are engaged in it today, and she says the movement has a lot of support from parents.

"I had the idea for this movement because I have things to say and to defend. The other activists of the group haven't chosen me, though, so we will organize a democratic election to decide who will be the president" said Pannell with a formal attitude.

After the election, the objective of the youth group will be to try to solve, as much as they can, the issues they see that concern young people. Their main goal will be to increase young people's awareness about gun violence, teenage pregnancy and many other subjects that directly concern their community through debates and discussion groups.

Closely affiliated with NAN, they will organize their events according to the NAN calendar and around important African-American events, like the dedication weekend for the Martin Luther King National Memorial in mid-October, for which they are currently planning.

Today, Pannell is calling for young people's commitment to the movement because, according to her, "They will benefit, because when you do good, you receive good."

This young girl has given herself the task of changing the life of her community as much as she can. For this reason, she says she will never give up what she has started, even if it is sometimes hard.

"Sometimes I feel a kind of pressure-I wonder if I can continue doing this. But when I see a homeless person, for example, I say to myself, 'You can't let these people down, what would happen if you stop?' and this give me the motivation and the strength to continue."