Fighting for the rights of others and standing up for what is morally right can be hard when you're young, but one Ames High School student has done just that.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa announced on Sept. 12 that Malika Davis of Ames is the 2019 Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award winner.
The ACLU of Iowa Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award is a $500 cash prize given to a young Iowan aged 14 to 19 who has demonstrated a passion and advocacy for civil liberties. It is named as a memorial to Des Moines attorney and civil liberties advocate Robert Mannheimer.
Davis, who is transgender, is being honored for multiple reasons. According to the ACLU website, these reasons include organizing a peaceful response to a Westboro Baptist Church visit to her school and her leadership as a youth board member at Ames Pride advocating for LGBTQIA+ issues.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say it’s a cakewalk, but it’s a road that I’m walking and still walking. I’m taking it day by day,” Davis said in a press release.
Instead of engaging the organization in an “anti-protest,” Davis focused on organizing a show of solidarity for students to feel safe and welcome when the Westboro Baptist Church visited Ames High School this past April, their first appearance in the city in nearly a decade. Community members handed out breakfast items, covered the sidewalks in displays of positivity and greeted everyone who entered the school.
As a youth board member for Ames Pride, she has also helped plan several panels, lectures and youth-led sessions for parents and transgender students, such as the all-ages drag shows at the Ames Public Library.
Outside of advocating for LGBTQIA+ issues, Davis is also involved in her school’s trial and debate team, where she hopes to use the research and public speaking skills she's cultivated to serve as an attorney for undocumented youth one day, according to the ACLU website.
“I want to use any platform I can and any tools I can to help advocate for marginalized communities,” Davis said in a press release.
A second-place award goes to Josephine Youngbear of the Meskwaki Settlement School. According to the ACLU website, Youngbear is an advocate for indigenous peoples and has participated in speech competitions to increase awareness of racial inequities.
A third-place award goes to Kevin Drahos of Linn-Mar High School. According to the ACLU website, Drahos served as his school’s first openly gay class president and student council president, a position in which he worked to increase understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues and gun violence. As a member of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, he also wrote and advocated for legislation like net neutrality and automatic voter registration.
These students will be honored at the ACLU of Iowa Bill of Rights Brunch, which will take place from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct.12 at the Hilton Downtown in Des Moines.