ACLU Announces Winners of Youth Activist Scholarships

April 26, 2004 12:00 am

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High School Seniors Across the Nation Honored


NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today announced the winners of its Youth Activist Scholarship for 2004. Ten high school seniors from around the country were selected to receive $4,000 each to honor their outstanding work to protect civil liberties, especially the rights of young people.

The Award was created in 2000 to recognize the efforts of graduating seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to civil liberties and civil rights through some form of student activism.

“”The next generation of civil libertarians will face new challenges as part of their ongoing defense of the Bill of Rights,”” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “”This scholarship gives the ACLU an opportunity to recognize the bravery of these students and the inspiration they provide.””

Among this year’s winners are Elliott Wolf of Maryland, whose use of regressive analysis data to study the Maryland State Police’s continued use of racial profiling earned him a semifinalist berth in the Intel Science Talent Search; Stefan Georg of New Jersey, who developed a website that enables students to get around their schools’ Internet filtering programs; and Bretton Barber of Michigan, whose First Amendment rights were defended in a successful lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Michigan after school officials demanded that he remove an antiwar T-shirt.

Following is a list of all the winners and their accomplishments:

Danni Biondini is a senior at Mercy High School in San Francisco. Danni has been a strong voice among leaders of Northern California’s Youth Activist Committee, speaking out against injustice and organizing for social change. She participated in a field trip to investigate the war on drugs, led the follow-up committee, and was chosen to present her findings to the ACLU of Northern California’s Board of Directors.

Danni calls herself a “”born-again”” activist: “”The main lesson I draw from my work with the ACLU is that, with passion and dedication, people have the power within them to create exquisite movements for social transformation,”” she said.

Keaty Gross is a senior at George Washington High School in Denver, Colorado. Keaty’s passion for civil liberties took on a public face when she stepped forward as one of nine plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Colorado contesting the constitutionality of a new law requiring the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis. Although the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, Keaty and her peers encountered substantial criticism from their fellow students. Keaty went on to found an ACLU chapter at her school. She also participates in a citywide program for outstanding scholars.

“”I am committed to advocating civil rights and civil liberties in both my school and my community because social activism provides me with a meaningful purpose and fulfills my sense of duty,”” Keaty said.

Stephen Narain graduated from high school in the Bahamas and spent the past year as a volunteer for the ACLU in Miami, Florida. He provided invaluable help to the affiliates in organizing and managing the complaints of excessive use of police force during the protests stemming from the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting. Stephen was the primary fact-finder, logging and reviewing all calls, and devising a method of categorizing them by subject matter.

“”People should have the right to protest without being met with a ‘police state,’ and protesters should be more wary of lawful, effective ways of getting their point across,”” Stephan said. “”If in some way I can have a part in this, as an intern now, and as a lawyer in the future, I would truly feel fulfilled.

Elliott Wolf, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Montgomery, Maryland, devised a system of statistical testing and data analysis of the Maryland State Police’s continued use of racial profiling that earned him a semi-finalist berth in the prestigious national Intel Science Talent Search. His analysis will be used as the plaintiffs proceed toward trial.

“”The tales of people being searched by dogs at night in the pouring rain drove me to put so much time and energy into my research,”” Elliott said. “”This is the first instance that I have applied my mathematical skills to my social activism. I hope that my analysis will help change the behavior of Maryland State troopers toward minority drivers.””

Bretton Barber has been an ACLU member since 7th grade. So by the time he got to high school and was asked to remove his anti-war t-shirt by school officials, he knew what his rights were, and he knew who to call: the ACLU. The ACLU’s successful challenge to the t-shirt ban made the Dearborn High School student famous. In addition to his First Amendment activism, Bretton also writes a column on youth issues for a monthly gay rights newspaper. He credits his parents’ willingness to listen for teaching him to back up his opinions with fact.

“”My First Amendment battle only strengthened my desire to be an activist for civil liberties,”” Brett said. “”I realize now that violations occur to everyone, everywhere, no matter what their ideals.””

Gregory Johnson is a senior at Humphreys County High School in Belzoni, Mississippi, a state that still allows corporal punishment in some of its school districts. Gregory has worked with Citizens for Quality Education, whose mission is to end such policies, help abused children in school and clean up the environment.

“”I started this work because I was sick of losing battles to unfair circumstances,”” Gregory said. “”I will continue to fight regardless of past battles lost, because unrighteousness must not win the war.””

Stefan Georg, a senior at Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, developed a website that enables students to get around their schools’ Internet filtering programs. Thousands of students across the nation have now used this program, enabling them to access information about breast cancer, rape, sexuality, drugs and other critical topics that the blocking software prohibits.

“”Giving up civil liberties would only harm the nation, not help protect it,”” Stefan said. “”Throughout our history, civil liberties have always needed protection from governments willing to trample on their own citizens, and I will work hard to protect both my own and everyone else’s civil liberties.””

Lindsay Roberts has been a leader in the New York Civil Liberties’ Teen Health Initiative, which promotes minors’ rights to access health care. The senior at New York City’s Trinity School demonstrated her ability to command an audience in situations as adverse as the city’s tough juvenile detention centers. She also serves as peer educator and editor of the THI newsletter.

“”My job as an activist is not to make decisions for others or dictate what path to follow but rather to present the options and the promises that our government makes to youth in America,”” Lindsay said. “”What I want is to empower today’s youth to make the right decisions concerning their bodies and their futures.””

Rachel Wilson is a senior at Cleveland Heights High School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Since her participation in the 2003 ACLU membership conference in Washington, D.C. Rachel has shown herself to be a mature and dedicated activist for civil liberties issues. She is an accomplished spokesperson and has served on various panels in conjunction with National Bill of Rights Day. She founded and leads the ACLU Ohio Campus Club to raise awareness and increase civic activism among her peers.

“”I want to help the starving and sick and lonely, I want to give them what I have, what I was born into by chance,”” Rachel said. “”That’s why I am active, because every day we can grow closer to a beautiful humanity in which no one is voiceless, powerless, or discriminated against.””

Marla Dukler had already applied to start a gay-straight alliance at Klein High School in Klein, Texas, when three boys attacked her in the school hallway. With the help of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Texas, the gay rights club was eventually allowed to meet. Marla went on to found a network of local gay-straight alliances in the Houston area to foster tolerance. She tutors other students and works a part-time job while maintaining honors-level grades.

“”I did not just blame the harassment on the conservative area and accept it — instead I decided to end the harassment for all students,”” Marla said. “”I have heard many people say that equal rights for homosexuals will be gained during my generation. I think they are correct, but only if my generation is exposed to homosexuality and taught of it while they are still young.””

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