Lithonia teen wins $50,000 grant to help fight gun violence
10/25/2013, 6 a.m.
Fifteen-year-old Mary-Pat Hector of Lithonia has been awarded $50,000 to take her “Think Twice” national campaign against gun violence to more youth.
She was among 10 young people ages 10 to 22 presented the $50,000 inaugural Peace First Prize by a national nonprofit.
Peace First, which teaches critical peacemaking skills to youth, announced the winners on Oct. 6 at the New York Public Library during NBC News’ “2013 Education Nation Summit.”
Mary-Pat, who is home schooled, said she will use $25,000 to go to Spelman College in 2015 and the rest to improve her Web site, www.justthink2twice.com; purchase public service announcements; and travel to schools to speak to kids.
“I want to encourage young people to think twice before picking up a gun,” she said Thursday. “I want them to think so that they don’t do something crazy.”
Mary-Pat said she was inspired to launch Think Twice in April after the senseless shooting deaths of 14-year-old Grayson High student Paul Sampleton Jr. in December 2012 and 15-year-old Chicago majorette Hadiya Pendleton in January. Paul was killed in his home by three classmates who wanted his high-end sneakers.
Hadiya was killed while sheltering from the rain with friends near her school a week after she performed with her school band at several inaugural events for President Barack Obama in the nation’s capital.
In addition to being a youth advocate, Mary-Pat is an author, speaker, playwright and host of the youth segment on “Keeping It Real With the Rev. Al Sharpton.”
The civil rights activist and TV host is her mentor.
She began advocating for her generation when she learned about the frightening statistics affecting youth at age 9.
Mary-Pat said she decided to speak up and do something. She grew a community service project into the nonprofit Youth in Action USA, which became one of the nation’s fastest-growing youth-led organizations.
Youth in Action encourages children to become change agents in their communities through volunteerism, peace rallies, and training on community advocacy. There are chapters in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, New York, Florida, Washington and Missouri.
The two-year Peace First Prize Fellowship recognizes leading youth peacemakers who are helping to create peaceful schools and communities.
Winners’ projects vary from addressing the needs of homeless youth to preventing school bullying, promoting tolerance and nonviolence to launching sustainable school-based initiatives.
Eric D. Dawson, Peace First president and co-founder, said it has been teaching peacemaking in schools for 20 years.
“We take young people seriously,” he said. “The Peace First Prize is our way of celebrating living examples of youth peacemaking in action.”
Mary-Pat’s project uses powerful images and startling statistics about gun violence to help decrease urban youth gun violence and change the mind-set of youth in her community.
She began by meeting with advertising firms and youth leaders to learn how to publicize and raise awareness, created a budget, then unveiled her campaign to the media and community. She also held demonstrations with friends using posters and T-shirts to get students’ attention.
The $50,000 fellowship will allow her campaign to be seen in three markets. Her national campaign provides teen-safety workshops for schools and trains teens and college students in many areas of youth advocacy techniques.
Mary-Pat is also youth leader for Usher’s New Look foundation.
She has been honored for community service by Obama and is a recipient of the Power Woman Award from Sharpton’s NAN Convention, the Drum Major of Justice award from SCLC WOMEN, and the Essence 365 Black award from McDonald’s.
She was selected for Ebony Magazine’s Power 100, a 21st Century 20 Under 20 Leader 2013, Activist of the Year by the 100 Black Men of America, Philanthropist of the Year by Hearts to Hearts, and a national winner for Kohl’s Kids Who Care.
She writes about social issues and is the youngest blogger for Russell Simmons’ GlobalGrind.com Web site.
For more information about Peace First, visit www.peacefirst.org.