This was harder than we'd thought it would be.
And let's be clear: it's not because there aren't amazing young people out there doing seriously wonderful and creative things in and for St. Louis. The premise seemed so easy ask people who spend time around folks under the age of 21 to nominate young people for a "21 Under 21 Award," to recognize visionary, exciting, creative, inspirational young people who are making a difference in St. Louis, and who should give us all hope for the future.
We think you'll agree when you read the blurbs that follow about our award winners, the young people who were selected go above and beyond just providing hope for the future: they are hope and action for right now, having a positive effect on their community, and all of our communities, in real time. We couldn't be prouder of our first crop of award winners, all under the age of 21.
But here's the hard reality: it was like pulling teeth to generate a large number of nominations. Now, our natural tendency is to assume we did everything we could to publicize the awards featuring it on our front page for several months, direct-mailing award nomination forms to every school we could think of, hand-delivering materials to schools and non-profit organizations by the dozens, running a notice in the Riverfront Times, personally (and repeatedly) soliciting nominations from many, many friends and acquaintances who work with young people on a daily basis.
What we learned is that those of us who are over 21 and we imagine that includes many of our readers don't know nearly enough about what's going on with our under-21 cohorts in St. Louis. Lots of potential nominators told us, "I don't really know anyone under 21," or, "I don't know them well enough to know what they might be doing that's cool." This city already has a cult of the aged, which lays laurels only on the grizzled heads of the old (and too often, white). It's a red flag to all of us here at TheCommonspace.org that it's time to broaden our horizons a bit, lest the next words out of our mouths be, "Bah, never trust anyone under 30." We challenge you, too, to actively seek out the promise of the next generation of St. Louis leaders, because we think you'll be impressed with what you find.
The following award winners were honored at a recognition ceremony on June 26:
Iris Jacob, age 18
Nominated by her friend Skyler Jackson
At Crossroads School, she designed and implemented many diversity programs (including affinity groups for women, Jews and gay/lesbian/bi/trans students) where classmates could have dialogue and support. In 1999, she attended the Anytown Youth Leadership Institute, a program of the National Conference for Community and Justice, where she learned more about diversity and social activism. She will co-direct that same institute this fall, the youngest person ever to hold that position. She was invited to be the NCCJ's keynote luncheon speaker, an honor given to Maya Angelou two years ago. Iris Jacob edited and published a book earlier this year called "My Sisters' Voices: Teenage Girls of Color Speak Out," based on her own experiences as a biracial teen. Her book recounts the struggles and triumphs of teenage girls from African American, Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and biracial backgrounds. She was recently recognized by Teen People magazine as one of "20 Teens Who Will Change the World."
Ryan Stokes, age 13
Nominated by Tori Kruel, Mentor Coordinator for Team Sweep U.S.A.
Ryan sees community service and volunteer work as a way to enrich his own life while changing the lives of others. He serves as a peer mentor with Team Sweep Model Citizens, a program that matches up young people with caring adults to clean and beautify neighborhoods while providing enrichment opportunities for the young volunteers. He plays the violin, and has performed benefit concerts to raise money for a local community center. He helps maintain a community garden, tutors younger children in reading and mathematics, is active in the Boy Scouts and is completing an African-American Rites of Passage ceremony. He plans to become a scientist, and his academic achievements were recognized with his recent induction into Brittany Woods Middle School's National Junior Honor Society. Here's a young man who "will not let social ills stand in the way of his success."
Sarah Filla, age 18
Nominated by her teacher and coach Kim Lackey
Sarah is an exemplary student at Eureka High School, but her activities outside the classroom cause her to really stand out. She participates in a plethora of community and volunteer activities, including: volunteering at Relay for Life, a soup kitchen, vacation Bible school and Reality House; several mission trips to Philadelphia, Louisiana and Brazil; leadership positions in National Honor Society, marching band, youth council and S.T.A.R.S. (Success Through Academics, Responsibility and Service); and a two-week trip to Russia this spring, teaching English and sharing American culture, that she gave a presentation about upon her return home. She works hard to bring "goodness, peace and high moral values" to her community.
Sam Kleinman, age 15
Nominated by Bev Hacker, station manager at KDHX-88.1 FM
Sam is a volunteer radio programmer at KDHX, where his expertise is traditional folk music, which he bring to the St. Louis community as the co-host of the show "Family Reunion," heard every Sunday at 10 a.m. He's helping to keep the flame alive for traditional music and is spending countless hours learning the heritage of music, from the earliest Irish and Celtic folk songs to present-day recordings.
Andrea Renshaw, age 19
Nominated by Pam Culliton, RN, at Maryville University
Andrea carries a rigorous academic load as a student at Maryville University, but still finds time to champion the causes of peace, equality and women's issues. Last fall, she worked with Maryville students and the campus ministry office on Urban Adventure, a program to clean and revitalize a neighborhood in north St. Louis. She has marched for peace in local demonstrations, and participated in a panel to develop peaceful means of resolving conflict after September 11. She single-handedly spearheaded efforts to bring The Vagina Monologues to campus, which was a huge success and raised more than $1000 for the Fortress Women's Shelter. She volunteers as a tutor at Karen House, and is exploring starting a women's support group at Maryville.
John Penilla, age 20
Nominated by his friend Dave Drebes
John's moved on from St. Louis to attend Notre Dame University now, but he hasn't forgotten about his hometown: he takes every opportunity to come back and make a difference. In high school, he was an excellent water polo player who enjoyed the game not only for the sport of it but also because he felt it taught him important values, like the importance of preparation and training, the satisfaction of seeing dedication and hard work pay off, the centrality of team work to any success and the value of sportsmanship as a lifelong attitude, not just an athletic virtue. He returns every year to SLU High School to volunteer and help coach younger players. He has also been a volunteer at St. Agnes Home.
Rose Newport, age 19
Nominated by Betsy Primo of the Saint Louis University sports information office
Rose had the opportunity to attend the National Conference for Community and Justice's Anytown Youth Leadership Institute while she was a student at Rosati-Kain High School, and was invited back the next year as a staff member, learning and teaching leadership skills and working toward equality among many sociocultural groups. As a graduation project, she volunteered at the Downtown Children's Center, and has also taken part in the annual AIDS Walk in St. Louis. She maintains a good academic record (in fact, she took advanced courses in high school to achieve several semesters of college credit early) at Saint Louis University.
Karim Hameed, age 17
Nominated by Mallarie Zimmer, communications coordinator at Craft Alliance
Karim's well-known on the St. Louis poetry scene, having made a name for himself at a young age with hip-hop flavored rhymes that he performs at local venues and festivals, including last year's Langston Hughes World Black Poetry Festival. He was a member of St. Louis' four-person contingent to the National Poetry Slam in 2000 and has won and/or placed highly in several local slam competitions. As a member of the 2000 team, he performed at the Metropolis Lot party and at the Rhythm and Word Festival. He also logs a lot of time each week at his family's flower stand, "Visual Affects," in Soulard Market, where he keeps a steady stream of customers happy and picks up ideas for his other sideline, flower arranging for shops around town.
Lesley Weinstein, age 17
Nominated by her parents, Peggy and Bob Weinstein
As a just-out-of-7th-grader at The College School in Webster Groves, Lesley found herself frustrated with the lack of opportunities for kids to help others and serve their community in a meaningful way. She took matters into her own hands and created the "Kids 4 Kids" 5K/1 mile run, exclusively for kids 18 and under, with all proceeds to benefit 12 St. Louis city schools that have the "America Reads" literacy program to intervene in the lives of low-literacy children. She got corporate sponsorships and grants, designed t-shirts, gathered awards, convinced other kids to run and even brought some of the kids benefiting from the proceeds to the event. From that first year, she was hooked on service, and this June will mark the 4th annual run, in Tower Grove Park. She and a friend at Kirkwood High School, where Lesley is a junior, started a literary magazine called "Secrets in the Sauce," this past winter. They solicited contributions of poetry, art, photography and prose, and sold the magazine for three dollars, with all proceeds benefiting literacy in St. Louis. She has volunteered for the St. Louis Marathon and the Make-a-Wish Foundation Christmas party; her other school-based activities include an AIDS project, the Gay-Straight Alliance, swimming and water polo.
Asena Madison, age 19
Nominated by Janet Oberle, assistant women's soccer coach at Saint Louis University
Asena sets her sights high, aiming to have a career practicing medicine in the community she was raised in. She's currently pursuing a pre-med education at Washington University; previously, she took part in the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership seminar for two consecutive years and also attended the American Youth Foundation's International Leadership Conference for two years. In her community, she has volunteered extensively, visiting sick and homebound individuals, participating in frequent neighborhood clean-ups, teaching Spanish to the Normandy Viking Tykes and taking part in peer tutoring at her high school, Normandy High. She played volleyball and basketball and ran track during her high school career, and took part in several math and science extracurricular clubs.
Lauren Caruso, age 16
Erica Conner, age 16
Kathryn Fechter, age 17
Kelly Hollenberg, age 16
Shannon Lipson, age 16
Elisha Williamson, age 17
Lauren Scott, age 16
Nominated by Pat Harris, Diversity Coordinator at Ursuline Academy
These Ursuline students were nominated as a group, since they are all active members of the school's Leadership for Diversity Team, through the American Youth Foundation. The 42 members of the team (and these nominees in particular) take the lead at school in promoting understanding and valuing of difference, by: meeting once a week before school; selecting and reading a diversity-related quote to the student body each week; preparing and facilitating diversity workshops for each grade level every year; planning and hosting a monthly "issues seminar" for students, alumni, parents and staff, on topics including teen pregnancy, racism, gender issues, lookism and teen dating issues; and writing, publishing and distributing a monthly diversity newsletter. They're working hard on the planning and hosting of a High School Diversity Workshop this coming September.