MaryPat Hector’s mother always told her that she didn’t have to wait to be great. And she didn’t wait.
The Youth in Action organization juggernaut is the byproduct of Mary Pat’s pursuit of greatness and it’s changing kids’ lives across the country, including her own.
MaryPat, 13, created the Georgia-based YIA, which has mushroomed into a national teen organization of considerable size and depth with 18 chapters in Georgia and more in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, St. Louis, Detroit and three more in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens in New York. MaryPat wanted a positive platform where she and her prepubescent peers could channel their youthful exuberance and energies into community projects that uplift, educate and transform.
“The reason why I started it in 2008 is because a group of my friends live in Stone Mountain [in suburban Atlanta] where there was nothing to do. And a lot of them got involved in trouble and violence,” she said. “And I thought, well, maybe if we do something where we can get engaged and stay engaged, it would be positive for our community. We started doing things in our community, recycling and doing different things that would help us in the future.”
MaryPat initially conceived of the idea for a local organization when she was just 9 years old. That’s when a close female friend told her she was being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Her friend’s heartbreaking dilemma lit a fire in MaryPat’s soul. Something had to be done, and now.
The outspoken MaryPat also wants to improve the way the media and adults criticize youth with almost vicious intent.
“I also want to change the way the media view youth. When you look at the news, the news anchors talk about the negative that we do. But I wanted to show them that youth do positive things.”
And doing positive things on a variety of fronts, we might add. Each YIA chapter focuses on different issues afflicting their community, MaryPat says, including gang violence, teen pregnancy, gun violence and child abuse. “We are changing the world one project at a time,” she says.
MaryPat returned to Atlanta recently from the YIA’s Huntsville and Alabama A&M chapters where they helped the victims of the horrific tornados attain food, water and clothing. The work has not gone unnoticed either. The Rev. Al Sharpton, a mentor to MaryPat and the YIA, bestowed MaryPat with the “Woman of the Year” award during the Women’s Power Luncheon at the NAN convention in New York. She sat on stage with Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s senior advisor.
Some of MaryPat’s comrades are doing big things as well. Mya Williams, 14, the Stone Mountain chapter president, came to the organization after a male friend was shot in the head two years ago. She now has an intense desire to also change the world, starting with changing teen girls’ mindsets and appearance.
“I want to change the way women dress,” says Williams, who admits she was once stuck up. “We do so much to impress the men, but they don’t do anything to impress us. And if we don’t do what they want, they leave. And some women actually do what boys want, and that’s not fair.”
Both young women have higher education on the horizon, with Mya wanting to model and start her own organization one day and MaryPat aspiring to be the next Oprah. Why not dream big as a young teen? It is, after all, the youth who usually get things popping and influence popular culture.
“The youth want to do positive things. They were happy to see young people
[like YIA] take a stand. It kind of excites young people when they see their peers and other young people doing positive things. They say ‘I want to be just like that.’ They get fired up, and they get excited. That’s why we’re getting all this publicity and getting more chapters,” MaryPat says. “They say ‘I want to be a part of that movement.’ And if you think about it, Dr. King and Huey Newton [founder of the Black Panther Party] started at a young age. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to spark the movement; we’re going to change the world. When you look at history, it was the youth that changed the world.”
For more information or to join and contribute, log onto www.youthinactionusa.com.