Accepting a White House invitation would be daunting for anyone. But eighteen-year-old Mary-Pat Hector kept her cool when she and other civil rights leaders visited the Oval Office in February. “I really wanted to ask President Obama a question that was important to millennials about the school-to-prison pipeline. I brought it up and then said, ‘What are you going to do with the time you have left?'”
That’s what Hector has been doing all her life. Asking questions. And looking for solutions.
President Obama told her change must happen on the local and state levels. “I was happy with the answer as far as it went,” Hector says, adding that she felt the president could do more to get involved by reaching out to local officials.
The Spelman College freshman has an astonishing resume. Her activism began at age eleven, when she kept noticing police handcuffing young men near her Stone Mountain home. She was angry that the county had opened a new detention center in her neighborhood but didn’t have a park or recreation center nearby.
Having read about sit-ins, she persuaded her friends to join her in protest. When the news media ignored them, she called the Reverend Al Sharpton’s radio show. She met the leader and was named national youth director of his organization. Eighteen months later, a recreation center opened in her area.
Hector, who plans to run for political office in 2017, says she’s driven to stem the toll of gun violence, a cause she champions through her national shock-advertising campaign Think Twice, which urges people to pause before picking up a gun. “There are more guns on the street than we have kids outside playing,” she says. And if the president alone can’t stop the problem, she intends to do what she can to help.