In the year I began university I became more aware of my age. I was one of the youngest in a place that had been molded by a legacy of success and currently holds and nurtures the ideas of those who created and will create their own success. I realized that true success could have began long before the age of 18, this knowledge gave me a power boost that I regret not achieving earlier.
This series gives an overview of ten generally unknown but brilliant youth who have made their presence known to the world. I created this series in an effort to peak interests and inspire so that anyone could feel as if they could change the world as well.
1. When Necessity became a Business
Ludwick sits in a bathtub on the set of his DryBath™ photo shoot, 2015 (image source).
Ludwick Marishane is a South African businessman and entrepreneur. In 2011, at the age of 21, he was awarded with the Global Student Entrepreneurs Award, an award which recognizes the best student entrepreneur in the world and acknowledges them as Global Champion. He won the award after producing DryBath, a gel that can be used in substitute for a bath. He speaks about this here: Ludwick Marishane: A Bath without Water (TED Talk).
In that same year Google named him as one of the 12 brightest young minds in the world. DryBath which is housed under Marishane’s company, Headboy Industries, has made him his country’s youngest patent-holder. Currently, the product is being distributed to Europe and America where demand is high among campers. Now a 29-year old, Marishane was handpicked by Rémy Martin to be a representative in their One Life/ Live Them 2015/ 2016 campaign.
2. Elizie vs. White AmericaJohnetta Elzie, 2016 (image source).
Johnetta “Netta” Elzie is an American civil rights activist who rose to prominence during the August 2014 protests that condemned the shooting of 18 year old, unarmed Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting fueled the #BlackLivesMatter movement that we see today in the USA. At the time of the shooting Netta was an ordinary 25 year old studying journalism at Southeast Missouri State, but when she arrived at the scene where Michael Brown lay dead for hours she decided to become a spokeswoman and activist for justice in America.
Her activism applied pressure to the Clinton and Sanders presidential campaigns to develop concrete platforms around racial justice; she is one of the leaders in the activist group We The Protesters and she co-edits and co-created, This Is the Movement protester newsletter in 2014. During the year she attends, protests speaks at US universities even though she has been harassed and arrested by local police but she says, “I have no choice but to live. That’s what they hate, right? The fact that we’re still alive. That we can still smile.” (Information Source).
In 2015 Fortune named her one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders for her work in The Black Lives Matter movement and in the same year she won the Howard Zinn Freedom to Write award from the PEN American Center Literary Society for This Is the Movement.
She hails her mother who passed away as her biggest motivation in her Essence Magazine shoot video interview.
Her Twitter Account – Johnetta Elzie @Nettaaaaaaaa
3. South Africa’s Evolution in Do It Yourself Art Tony Gum (image source).
In 2015 a Vogue article christened 20 year old independent self portraitist Tony Gum as ‘the coolest kid in Cape Town.’
Her portraits are characterised by strong, dazzling color and patterns (she sites Tim Burton’s and Wes Anderson’s colour palettes and the Rastas of the 1978 Jamaican movie “Rockers” as her inspiration) but they also tackle political themes like race and commercialism which seen in her YouTube video interview for FNB Joburg Art Fair in 2015.
Her most popular work is the reimagined branding of her “(black) Coca Cola” series where she presents a tongue-in-cheek take on our universal preoccupation with identity, branding and politics. When describing the series she mentioned her country’s history of Apartheid in her LOSTWKND interview, “This is what happened, we were oppressed, okay, great. But we were never taught about being conscious, about being proud of being black…” She advertises mostly on her Instagram and blog pages.
Another young woman passionate about art is Zama Phakathi, one of the youngest gallery owners in South Africa. It all started In 2012 after she worked on the Soweto Art Residency project and she started receiving work from artists who needed a platform. After approaching art galleries that turned her down Zama decided to open on her own ‘mobile contemporary creative space’, an art gallery that is hosted inside a shipping container.
Zama Phakathi (image source).
At the age of 23 years old in a 2014 Times article- after her Stop Sign Art Gallery had been operating for one year- Zama said, “The inspiration behind starting the gallery was that I saw a gap in terms of resources for young people; there weren’t enough resources for upcoming young artists.” She also explains this in a YouTube video interview for the #YouthofToday MTV South Africa project.
4. LEADING FearlesslyJerome Cowans, 2016 (image source).
While living in Parade Gardens/ Te La Vive in Jamaica, Jerome Cowans witnessed the murders of several of his close friends by gang members. When he was 12 years old one of his best friends was killed in a violent incident. After that Jerome founded Leaders Endeavouring for Adolescent Development (LEAD). The program provided skills training, homework assistance, sports matches… anything aimed at reducing the likelihood of young people getting involved in crime and violence.
Jerome served as President for LEAD for the six years he attended Jamaica College where he attained eight CSEC subjects (4 distinctions, 2 credits and 2 passes) and was awarded 2s and 4s at CAPE. He went on to the University of the West Indies where he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with a minor in Public Sector Management.
I write all this to say that academics are never all, Jerome shone in leadership roles that all stemmed from his LEAD initiative.
He became President of the Kingston Youth Council and later on he received the Governor General’s award for leadership in 2011. In 2013, he received both the Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in leadership and the Queen’s Young Leader Award. In November of the same year he represented Jamaica at the Commonwealth Youth Forum and Elections in Sri Lanka where he presented a Youth Declaration. A year later at 25 years old, he became the first Jamaican to receive the CIVICUS Nelson Mandela Graca Machel Innovation Award in the Youth category (he speaks about it in his YouTube interview) and he was also appointed the Head of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Project and Budget Committee.
President Obama said of Jerome at the UWI town hall meeting in 2015, “So at the ripe old age of 13, he founded a youth group to help others like him stay on the right path. And he started small, with only six people, but they had one big thing in common and they believed that change was possible.” And it was.
5. Taking Medicine to the Skies Ola Orekunrin, 2015 (image source).
On so many levels, Ola Orekunrin is a lioness of Africa: She is a British-Nigerian medical doctor, helicopter pilot and the founder and CEO of Flying Doctors Nigeria, the first air ambulance service in West Africa which she started in 2013.
Ola was born in London, England and grew up with foster parents. By aged 21 she had already graduated from the University of York as a qualified doctor, becoming one of the youngest medical doctors in the UK. But it was when her 12 year-old sister became very ill whilst Ola was staying with relatives in Nigeria, when she decided to really do something more for her country. “She was always in and out of hospitals but eventually died for lack of the availability of air ambulance.” She said of her sister who died from sickle-cell anemia complications because there was no available air transportation to take her the a hospital.
Ola sights her sister as her main inspiration in her TIME Next Generation Leaders video interview in 2014. It her was death that prompted Ola to leave behind a high-flying job in the UK to address the vital need for improved health care in Africa’s most populated country, Nigeria, through means of the skies.
6. Save the Land, Protect the PeopleDestiny Watford, 2016 (image source).
Baltimore has the most deaths caused by air pollution in the USA, and Curtis Bay where Destiny Watford lives, is the dirtiest community.
Since her senior year of high school at 16 years old– in her YouTube interview she describes herself as a shy girl, but in spite of this– she led a committed group of teenagers-called Free Your Voice, in a movement to stop a company from building what would have been the largest incinerator in Eastern US, in her community’s backyard.
Free Your Voice knocked on doors, pressed elected officials and corporate executives until authorities revoked the project’s permit in 2016. In the same year Destiny was honored with one of the world’s most prestigious environmental award, The Goldman Environmental Prize, for her community leadership. She is the youngest winner to receive the award to date..
7. A Comedian must be True to LifeMichaela Coel (image source).
She is a 29-year-old London-born screenwriter and actress who rose to prominence in 2015 when the first season of her comedy series, “Chewing Gum” debuted on Netflix. The show follows a young Christian woman who is is on a campaign to lose her virginity.
Michaela Coel created and wrote the 6-part series entirely by herself.
She got a place at university to study English but nothing stuck until she won a scholarship to Guildhall School of Music and Drama in central London where she majored in Drama. She started writing “Chewing Gum,” as she states in her YouTube interview with Forbes, as a part of her final project because she wanted to write about things that mirrored her upbringing, race and class– things that most student plays hardly ever had.
In 2016 the New York Times named “Chewing Gum” among its best TV shows of 2016 and in the same year Micaela won the British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) for Female Performance In A Comedy Programme. Here is her speech.
8. Pursuing the Business of SportsJehue Gordon advertises his Ambition cologne (image source).
Jehue Gordon is Trinidad and Tobago’s only athlete to win a gold medal in the 400m hurdles on the international scene. He stated that deciding to pursue athletics full time took him a year and a half, he did not take the decision lightly. Jehue became a fully professional athlete in June 2010, and signed a deal with Adidas in August 2010.
Three years later, at 21 years old, he was a world champion. When The BBC video team tracked him down in 2012 he stated that his main motivation was to represent his country and he also explained how grateful he was for his family and his support system because they constantly remind him where he came from and they help guide his future path.
After the World Championships, in 2013 Jehue was awarded with his country’s Spirit of Sport Award and The Chaconia Medal, the later is the second highest state decoration of Trinidad and Tobago. In 2015 Jehue received a first class honours Bachelor of Science degree in Sports Management with minors in Marketing and Human Resource Management which he later put to good use when he launched his cologne line, Ambition in the same year. In 2016 he stated that he is is currently training for his comeback to the sport of track and field.