Youth activists have their say

A trio of youth activists kicked off the Thursday afternoon plenary session on promoting children's well-being by sharing their stories with TEACH attendees.

Cancer survivor Grace Callwood (below) was full of praise for her teachers, who "have always played a huge role in making me feel comfortable, included and happy." The middle schooler is a firm believer that happiness shouldn't wait. In fact, it became her motto when she was diagnosed with cancer as a child. During her four-year cancer journey, Callwood's teachers stepped up to make sure she was able to continue her education.

Grace Callwood

She was led to start a nonprofit organization called the We Cancerve Movement to bring happiness to homeless, sick and foster children. In 2015, Callwood was named a Peace First Fellow because of her nonprofit work. She encouraged the teachers in attendance to continue supporting the well-being of their students. "You've truly changed my life."

Imani Henry (below) calls herself "a visionary and advocate for early childhood literacy and education." Henry struggled with reading as a child because of a birth defect that affected her vision. Medical intervention improved her condition, but Henry's literacy skills suffered a severe decline. "I was paired with the best second-grade teacher and a tutor," said Henry. "I was also inspired by my father. He would read to me, and for that 15 minutes each night, nothing else mattered in the world to me. My three big brothers also helped me overcome my reading challenges, regain my courage and learn to read beyond all barriers."

That courage led Henry, now 16, to start a literacy movement at the ripe age of 10, called 100 Men Reading. The program promotes reading and literacy development among young children, pairing volunteers and role models with schools to read to children and encourage daily reading. Henry was named a Peace First Fellow in 2014 for her program, which has since gone international. Her passion for reading led her to self-publish her own children's book, "Imani and Her Magical Fairy Readers."

"It's our responsibility to help make a difference and secure academic success for all children," said Henry. "If we continue to work together, we will no longer have a literary crisis in America."

Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm has helped lead the charge to protect transgender students, working with the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge an unconstitutional school bathroom policy in his hometown of Gloucester, Va. "My story is in many ways like the stories of many young people. I think we all struggle to come to terms with who we are, in one way or another," said Grimm, who recently graduated from high school. "Since the beginning of this process, I have spoken with countless educators, students and school administrators. I have heard stories of supportive schools, and with it tales of flourishing students. Unfortunately, I have also heard the opposite."

Grimm took a moment to thank the audience. "Support from teachers and educators is crucial. Your being here means you are a part of the conversation, and therefore a part of the effort to make schools a safe haven for children, trans or not."

[Adrienne Coles]