By Victoria Feng, AKOM and Money Smarts Editor
Grace Wickerson is the founder of Kickin’ Violence, a nonprofit that aims to stop worldwide violence. It educates youth about violence and also does acts of community service for disadvantaged kids. At the same time, Grace leads clubs like Interact Club, Girls who Code, and Science Olympiad. Keep reading to find more about Grace’s amazing accomplishments.
AK: How did you find out about LEAD360* and why did you apply? What was your reaction when you found out you were a finalist?
*LEAD360 is a national competition honoring those who help the community and/or others. Will Lourcey, who was published in August’s AKOM issue, is also a LEAD360 winner.
GW: I actively follow a couple of twitter users who regularly post opportunities for service-minded youth such as recognition opportunities and grants (my favorite one is VolunTEEN). They began posting about this opportunity in early January and I was really interested in applying because I saw it as a fantastic way to bring Kickin’ Violence to the next level. I actually knew one of the previous winners from a conference I’d attended and after talking to her I knew that it wouldn’t hurt to apply and see what happened. When I got the email that I was a national finalist and was part of an elite group of 15 project ideas I could hardly believe my eyes. And just two short weeks later, after an extensive campaign for votes, I received the call that I was a Lead360 winner. It was beyond surreal. I was so excited that I forgot I was in public! Let’s just say I scared a few people around me.
AK: Could you tell us a bit more about Kickin’ Violence and what inspired you to create it?
GW: Kickin’ Violence is a 501©3 non-profit organization that inspires youth involvement in non-violence advocacy through education, service, and martial arts. We are one of the first anti-violence organizations led by youth for youth. Our programming uniquely integrates these seemingly different things to create an exciting environment in which youth are excited to “kick” out violence from their schools and communities through starting a chapter or leading a campaign.
Projects that align with each core value are as follows:
- Workshops for youth groups in the community on topics from consent to online abuse
- Summits to instigate youth-led activism, provide them with training/materials to start campaigns or lead chapters
- Work with school administrations to better their dating violence policies.
- Host monthly service projects at the home club and encourage other chapters to do the same. These projects range from crafts to collection drives
- Host service events in the community – In February of 2016, engaged 40 youth to design 160 Valentines that were donated to 4 local domestic violence shelters.
- Monthly self-defense trainings at chapter meetings
- Community trainings that are open to the public (all ages)
I started Kickin’ Violence as a part of my Girl Scout Gold Award Project in August of 2013. Much of my inspiration was drawn from my many years of martial arts training. As a student of Tae Kwan Do, I took an oath to exercise respect, never misuse Tae Kwan Do, and champion for freedom and justice. To do otherwise would have compromised this commitment to building a more peaceful world. Drawing from these core philosophies, I created curriculum that integrated empowering martial arts training with anti-violence advocacy with the hopes of raising a generation of young people that stood up to violence. The service component came later, especially as I began to realize how important building lines of empathy between young people and survivors of violence was for creating the inspiration to eradicate violence.
AK: What do you think is the solution to worldwide violence?
GW: To put it simply, young people are the solution to ending worldwide violence. They are the generation that can break the cycle of intergenerational violence, we only need to give them the proper education they need to prevent violence. Educating young people and mobilizing them to action will create the movement we need to end violence once and for all. Ending violence doesn’t have one catch-all solution, but I believe young people are key for finding and implementing the range of solutions we need.
AK: You are also part of Interact Club, Girls Who Code, and Science Olympiad at your school. How are you involved in each of these clubs and why did you choose to participate in these clubs? What do they mean to you?
GW: Through the Interact Club, I have engaged in service throughout the community, as well as led several key service projects. Some examples include leading a clothing drive and running a garage sale for survivors of sexual trafficking, collecting over $8,000 worth of books for disadvantaged elementary schoolers, serving as volunteer coordinator for the local Rotary club’s Tree of Joy fundraiser, which collects money to take lower socioeconomic students grocery shopping, and organizing a couple of gift wrapping events to raise money for children with diabetes in Haiti. I served as President this year and was not only in charge of leading a year-long service project (Selah Freedom) but also coordinating other major projects throughout the year. I joined Interact because it was a tightknit group of service-minded individuals who were willing to do whatever it took to serve the community.
Girls Who Code was an initiative that I started at Pine View and I am now leading efforts to charter more clubs at every area high school. I currently lead the Pine View club, and my job mostly resides in teaching the club basic programing skills, securing funding, securing outside instructors, helping members out with projects, and bringing exciting news from the tech world to the club’s attention. I am passionate about this club because it presents a feasible solution to solving the gender gap in computer science. By working to cultivate a passion for computer science in middle and high school, Girls Who Code is empowering the next generation of female leaders in the field!
Finally, I started Science Olympiad at my club first for high school students (and next year for Middle and Elementary students!) because my school, in general, lacks after-school STEM programs for its students. We have a huge, but underutilized, talent pool. In our first year, without any preparation whatsoever, we were still able to bring several medals home from Regionals. In this club, I am in charge of securing funding, recruiting members, and coordinating with teacher sponsors.
My clubs are my family. I think they serve an important role in building communities among high school students who wouldn’t regularly meet during the school day. I have made friends through my clubs that I will stay close with for years to come. Clubs allow students to explore their passions. By starting clubs, I have been able to bring more opportunities for students to pursue their passions!
AK: You are very passionate about youth advocacy. Tell us a little about what youth advocacy means and how you have sought to advance it.
GW: Youth advocacy is basically mobilizing youth to speak out about the issues that matter most to them as well as working to create solutions that will solve this problem. I believe that mobilizing youth-based advocacy is the key to solving global problems. Kickin’ Violence’s mission revolves around empowering youth to engage in advocacy as a way of eliminating violence. Beyond Kickin’ Violence, I have also been able to advance it through the advisory boards that I am a part of, including the National Youth Adviosory Board for loveisrespect, where I work with the organization to bring educational programs on dating violence to young people across the country and ALSO Youth, where I serve as the sole youth voice for creating youth-centered initiatives to benefit the LGBTQIA community. In any case, I have worked hard to not only lead my own efforts, but to inspire other young people to do the same, creating a wave of meaningful change.
AK: So far, what do you view as your biggest achievements and / or successes?
GW: Bringing Kickin’ Violence to where it is today, a national non-profit that has received such prestigious awards as the Girl Scout Gold Award and the National Jefferson Award, is what I consider to be one of my biggest successes. I took action when others wouldn’t or couldn’t. I cultivated a movement that is only going to get bigger in the years to come. Another smaller, but no less notable success, is how I have been able to start many clubs at my school, Pine View, and make them sustainable for years to come. Finally, securing a full ride in scholarships to a top university like Rice University is a major accomplishment that I am very proud of.
AK: What has been the most challenging part of your journey so far and how have you sought to overcome it?
GW: Honestly, the most challenging part of my journey has been learning how to look beyond titles when it came to leadership. Yes, I have accumulated a good number of titles over the years, none of them came without hard work. While it does look impressive to be the “Founder” of something or the “President” or the “CEO”, making a huge impact goes beyond titles. I remember being obsessed with “resume building” in 9th grade, thinking that I had to have X number of leadership positions in order to get into college. This kind of mentality is all too common among high achieving young people, and can often hinder them from understanding how they can create meaningful change in the lives of the people around them. When I learned to look beyond titles, and truly understand what being a leader meant, I felt like that was when Kickin’ Violence and my other ventures like Girls Who Code and Science Olympiad, blossomed.
AK: If you could change one thing about this world, what would it be and why?
GW: This is a tough one. There are so many things that I think we can improve about the world, so it is hard to narrow it down to just one. If I did have to choose one, I would say achieving gender equality. Achieving gender equality would mean an end to violence against women (or at least a great reduction), improved economic situations across all nations, and equal opportunities for all regardless of sex. I think it’s something we can accomplish in the years to come, but to have it today would be amazing.
AK: What advice would you give to our readers about following their dreams and making a difference?
GW: Find your passions and never lose sight of them. With passion, no obstacle is too great. Disappointment is inevitable, but true leaders look to utilize their failure to improve themselves or their efforts to make a difference.
For young people, work on improving how you interact with adults. While they should never take over your project, they can often provide helpful resources and connections that can bring your efforts to the next level.
Seek out opportunities to connect with other young people who are also working to create meaningful change. I have learned so much through attending conferences and events with other service-minded youth (including the Lead360 opportunity itself)!
Remember to have fun! Following your dreams is important and should always assume top priority, but sleep is also extremely important!
AK: Is there anything else you would like to add?
GW: Please learn more about my programs and see how you can make a difference.
Click on the links above and learn about Grace’s programs and how you can help!