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Here’s What 11-Year-Old Activist Naomi Wadler Wants Adults To Know

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“I hope by the time I’m your age, we would have educated our children ... on today’s issues and we wouldn’t have kept them in a bubble.”

Before she entered middle school, Naomi Wadler had gone viral.  

On March 24, the 11-year-old fifth-grader was onstage speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. During her three-minute speech, she spoke decisively about the lack of sustained media attention that girls and women of color receive when they are impacted by gun violence. “I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” she said. “I am here to say Never Again for those girls too.”

Her speech was quickly circulated online, earning her fans like Sen. Kamala Harris, Shonda Rhimes, Tessa Thompson and Ellen DeGeneres. When I spoke with Wadler three weeks after her launch into the national conversation, she said the whole experience had been “weird,” but was still ready to use her new platform to give me and my fellow journalists some strong advice.  

“The media can pay attention. I feel that a lot of them are very ignorant,” she told me, stressing that this ignorance is particularly clear when it comes to white journalists perpetuating racial stereotypes about black and brown people. “It’s the racial imbalance in the reporting that starts a chain reaction where then other people start to believe that.”

Wadler is certainly extraordinary. The fifth-grader first made headlines when she and classmate Carter Anderson planned a walkout at their elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, in the wake of the Parkland shooting in February. (Wadler’s mother, Julie Wadler, who identifies as a moderate Republican according to The Guardian, went to high school with the father of Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg.) On March 14, more than 60 students joined Wadler and Anderson in an 18-minute protest ― one minute for each victim of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and an extra minute for Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old black high school student shot and killed in an Alabama classroom days earlier.

But Wadler is also still a kid. She giggles over the phone, does her interviews with her mother nearby, and has big, beautiful dreams not yet encumbered by the cynicism that so often accompanies getting older.

At Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit on Saturday, she reiterated the power young people hold“I’m not an 11-year-old girl who they can just hug and kiss,” she said. “I can deliver a message.”  

During our phone conversation ahead the summit, Wadler and I spoke about her newly expansive platform, her hopes for the future, and her advice for us adults ― especially adult journalists. Us olds often forget just how smart kids are in general ― and how thoughtful, knowledgeable and opinionated we might have been at 9 or 11 or 15.

As Wadler explained, it’s on adults to check ourselves, step back and listen to young people. They “see the world through a different set of eyes,” she said.

How does it feel to have so many adults obsessed with you right now?

Naomi Wadler: Weird … I live in my house and I have my two dogs and my sister who I fight with and my mom who picks out dresses with me ― and people don’t know who I am, and now they do. So it’s a little weird!  

Do you consider yourself to be an activist?

Julie Wadler: [Laughs] She’s thinking about that one.

NW: Well, I haven’t really thought about it. I feel like I’m just standing up for what’s right. I’m not really, like, “Ah, I’m an activist!” I’m just making the change. I’m not going onto the streets of D.C. and screaming for my causes.

Black women don’t get as much media attention when they’re shot and killed. They don’t get trending Twitter hashtags, they don’t get Facebook posts dedicated to them, they don’t get whole Facebook pages dedicated to them.Naomi Wadler, 11

Did you always believe you had the power to make the world a better place, or did you have a moment where you decided that that was what you were going to do?

NW: I’ve grown up in an environment where I’m told that I can be what I want to be and do what I want to do. And for a period of time, I had a piece of blue duct tape in my mirror that said, “You can do anything.” I’m very thankful to have two parents that encouraged me as much as they did, causing me to probably have more confidence in my voice.

That is very lucky. Your parents sound awesome. Can you talk to me a little bit about how you got involved with March for Our Lives?

NW: Yes, I can. So I organized a walkout [after the Parkland shooting] for my school with my friend Carter. And it was well and good. We did the walkout. And then The Guardian did an article about me and Carter and they wanted to know why we’d added an extra minute for Courtlin Arrington … and our answer was that she was black. And that black women don’t get as much media attention when they’re shot and killed. They don’t get trending Twitter hashtags, they don’t get Facebook posts dedicated to them, they don’t get whole Facebook pages dedicated to them. So I thought this would be a good way to get a message across, and inspire.

And you really have gotten that message across. In your March for Our Lives speech you called out “the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper.” Why was that the message that you really wanted to drive home to people who were listening on that day? 

NW: Because, I mean, it’s my story. I don’t think that a white girl could have gotten up there and explained how this was unjust and how this is unfair and that she felt so bad. Because she hasn’t lived it, she doesn’t know what it’s like. So I think it was my story so it was a lot easier for me to put into words.  

I’m a journalist, and I work with a lot of other journalists. What advice do you have for those of us who are in the media? How can the media do better?

NW: The media can pay attention. I feel that a lot of them are very ignorant, and they don’t know what’s going on around them. They believe everything they hear. And so that causes them to report that ― they hear that black men are dangerous, so then the next time it just happens to be a black man robbing that bank, they’re gonna say “black” in a concerned tone [when they report on the crime].

I feel that also when they report a story, if it was a black man who shot somebody, they’re animals, they’re barbaric, they’re terrible, they’re dangerous and you should stay away from them. If it’s a white man, he was mentally unstable. It’s gonna be OK, we’re gonna send him to a treatment center. He didn’t mean to. He was a nice man, I don’t know where this came from. So it’s the racial imbalance in the reporting that starts a chain reaction where then other people start to believe that.

What do you say to adults who try to dismiss young people because of their age?

NW: Be the bigger person. I don’t wanna go out onstage and say, “They say I don’t know what I’m talking about so I’m gonna tell them all the ways that they’re wrong.” Because by doing that, I’m the little person and I am proving them right. I’m being immature. I’m not having the mature, strong persona that I’m trying to put across if I go out onstage and start whining about how wrong they are. So I’m gonna go up there, I’m gonna be mature. I’m going to tell my story and I’m gonna make a difference, because that’s proving them wrong without addressing them.

In general, how do you think us adults can do a better job of listening to kids and following kids?

NW: They can realize that ... they’ve made their progress. It’s gotten better, it really has, since the 1950s and 1960s, but there are still these giant leaps that we need to take. So since I feel that young people see the world through a different set of eyes, they can really give a different point of view and say what they’ve been through and adults should listen.

ILLUSTRATION: DAMON DAHLEN/HUFFPOST PHOTOS: REUTERS

So, I’m 30. You’re 11. What do you hope has changed in this country before you turn 30?

[At this point Wadler’s mother apologized, because they had to put me on mute so she could “hack up a hairball.” They both laughed a lot.]

NW: By the time I’m your age, I would like to hope that we would have made a lot more progress. I know that not everything’s perfect, and even though we might get stricter gun laws, there’s always going to be a problem. And so I hope by the time I’m your age, we would have educated our children, our grandchildren, the children after that on today’s issues and we wouldn’t have kept them in a bubble, so that they can do what we did. So that they can make a difference in the world they live in.

Are there any specific things that you’re like, I want that law to change, or I want to see this happen in our government or in our schools?

NW: I want to see stricter gun laws. You shouldn’t be able to walk into a store and buy an assault rifle without an ID, without a background check, without registering it. And we should make it harder to get the accessories that make semi-automatic rifles fully automatic rifles. And I would like further recognition and awareness of racism in the media.

And also, one other thing ― to help ruin the school-to-prison pipeline, so that black children, Hispanic children don’t go to school thinking “I am less than any white peer, and that I’m nothing more than a criminal.” Since they might drive past all these wealthy white schools that have uniforms and MacBooks and perfectly polished hallways, and so [children of color] think that they’re nothing better than a criminal and therefore that’s what they amount to.

I hope that girls, especially black girls, realize that they have worth and they can do whatever they want to do.Naomi Wadler, 11

Your message has already had such an impact. You’ve effectively gone viral. What do you hope other girls who saw your speech or saw you on “The Ellen Show” take away from seeing you in that position?

NW: I hope that girls, especially black girls, realize that they have worth and they can do whatever they want to do. And they’re not restricted by the lines of poverty or racism, and they can amount to as much and more than I’ve amounted to. They can give speeches, they can become activists if they choose to identify that way. They can read books, they can empower other girls. They should know that they’re worth something. They’re not worthless and they can make a difference too.

I have a feeling that we’re going to see a lot of greatness from you ― we already have. But what do you hope to be and do when you grow up? 

NW: When I grow up, I want to be a politician-slash-activist who runs my own business and is an entrepreneur who lives in my giant penthouse in New York City and/or Chicago and has a brown Siberian husky named Sheila. And I want to be executive editor and president of the New York Times ― the first black woman. Or the first Ethiopian woman.

Well, I would love to see you do all of those things.

JW: We’re laughing because she has a lot of options. If there’s already been the first black woman, she can be the first Ethiopian-American.

NW: First Ethiopian woman. And then on and on until we get to Ethiopian Jewish woman. And then I can be the first immigrant.

JW: [Laughs.] There’s a lot of adjectives she could use to be the first.

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Cops Arrest 2 Black Men Sitting In Starbucks For ‘Trespassing’: Video

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The Philadelphia DA’s Office said there was a “lack of evidence” that the men committed any crime.

A video showing Philadelphia police officers handcuffing and removing two black men from a Starbucks store has gone viral and incited allegations of racism, but the police commissioner insists his officers did “absolutely nothing wrong.”

Author Melissa DePino tweeted a video on Thursday showing officers escorting two black men out of a Starbucks in Center City as bystanders questioned why the men were being arrested.

“The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” DePino wrote on Twitter. “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”

DePino told local news outlet Billy Penn that the incident happened around 4:30 p.m. Thursday and that a friend of hers shot the video. 

The clip shows a man in a vest questioning why an arrest is taking place. Lauren A. Wimmer, defense attorney for the pair who was arrested, told BuzzFeed that the man in the vest is Andrew Yaffe, a friend who was meeting the men at Starbucks. She declined to give the names of her two clients. 

“What did they get called for?” Yaffe asks an officer in the video. “’Cause there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”

Another voice can be heard saying, “They didn’t do anything. I saw the entire thing.”

Wimmer told BuzzFeed that a white female manager at the store had asked the pair to leave when they came in and did not order anything. According to Wimmer, the men said they were waiting to meet someone, and the manager called the police. 

Philly Voice pointed to a second, longer video uploaded to YouTube that shows an officer telling Yaffe that the other two individuals were being arrested for “trespassing.” Yaffe calls what the officers are doing “discrimination.”

In an interview with Philly Magazine, DePino, who filmed the first video, said she was sitting “very close” to the two men.

She said a “girl behind the counter” had apparently called 911 before the cops arrived and told the men they were “trespassing.”

“They guys wanted to know what they did,” DePino told the magazine. “And then more cops and more cops and more cops show up.”

DePino said other customers in the store asked both the cops and the employee why the men were being arrested.

“And then they freaking put them in handcuffs and perp-walked them out the freaking store,” she told Philly Magazine. “These guys never raised their voices. They never did anything remotely aggressive.”

DePino also said she would not return to the Starbucks location in light of the arrest.

Ben Waxman, a spokesman for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, told HuffPost that the two men were released at 1:30 a.m. Friday. He said the DA will not bring charges against them.

“We declined to bring charges against the two men because there was a lack of evidence that a crime was committed,” Waxman said. 

The Philadelphia Police Department did not reply to a request for comment from HuffPost, but Police Commissioner Richard Ross said in a Facebook Live video posted Saturday afternoon that the officers “did absolutely nothing wrong.” They responded to the scene, he said, after receiving a 911 call reporting “a disturbance” and “trespassing.”

Starbucks employees told the responding officers that the two men had asked to use the restroom, Ross said. Employees said they told the pair that the restroom was only for paying customers and asked them to leave, and the pair allegedly refused. The men allegedly told the employees to go ahead and call the police.

According to Ross, police “politely” asked the pair to leave several times and they continued to refuse and behaved rudely toward the officers. The officers, he said, did everything right.

“They followed policy. They did what they were supposed to do. They were professional in all their dealings with these gentlemen,” the commissioner said.

“As an African-American man, I am very aware of implicit bias,” Ross added, noting that all officers in the police force receive “implicit bias training.” 

The video can be watched in full below:

When asked for comment from HuffPost, a Starbucks spokesman pointed to the company’s statements on Twitter.

“We apologize to the two individuals and our customers and are disappointed this led to an arrest,” Starbuck’s statement reads. “We take these matters seriously and clearly have more work to do when it comes to how we handle incidents in our stores.” The statement also said the company would be reviewing its policies.

Later Saturday, CEO Kevin Johnson apologized in a statement, saying the company has “begun a thorough investigation of our practices.” Johnson said he and the regional vice president plan to meet with Philadelphia community leaders and law enforcement and “hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested.”

“Our store manager never intended for these men to be arrested and this should never have escalated as it did,” Johnson said in the statement.

Black Teen Nearly Shot After Knocking On Door Asking For Directions To School

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People are saying the 14-year-old boy’s near-death experience is what it means to be black in America.

When 14-year-old Brennan Walker missed his bus on Thursday morning and started walking to school, he thought knocking on a door to ask for directions would help. He didn’t think it would nearly get him shot.

The Rochester Hills, Michigan, teenager attempted to trace the bus route on foot after he said he woke up late and missed the bus. Brennan didn’t have a phone with him because his mother had taken it away as punishment, as moms of teens are wont to do, and he got lost along the way.

When he approached a house to ask for directions, he was met with a gun.

“I got to the house, and I knocked on the lady’s door. Then she started yelling at me and she was like, ‘Why are you trying to break into my house?’ I was trying to explain to her that I was trying to get directions to Rochester High,” Brennan told Fox 2 Detroit.

“And she kept yelling at me. Then the guy came downstairs, and he grabbed the gun. I saw it and started to run. And that’s when I heard the gunshot.” 

The man’s shot luckily missed Brennan.

“My mom says that black boys get shot because sometimes they don’t look their age, and I don’t look my age. I’m 14, but I don’t look 14. I’m kind of happy that, like, I didn’t become a statistic,” said Brennan. 

Local police said they could not justify what happened to the teenager.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard told Click on Detroit that the shooting was “completely unacceptable on every level.”

“I don’t know how you would justify it, but it certainly doesn’t pass the muster,” the sheriff said.

Brennan’s mother, Lisa Wright, wants the man who shot at her son to face charges and believes that what happened “definitely was a hate crime.” 

The house had a Ring doorbell, which according to Fox 2 Detroit recorded the incident. Investigators let Wright and her son see the video.

“One of the things that stands out, that probably angers me the most is, while I was watching the tape, you can hear the wife say, ‘Why did these people choose my house?’” Wright said.

“Who are ‘these people’? And that set me off. I didn’t want to believe it was what it appeared to look like. When I heard her say that, it was like, ‘But it is [what it looks like],’” the mother said.

Many on social media have remarked on what happened to Brennan, with some noting this is what it means to be black in America.

The man who shot at Brennan is currently in custody and expected to face charges.

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The Importance of Free Press in a Democracy

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Before we can understand the importance of a free press in a democracy, we need to grasp what it means to have a free press. The Cambridge Dictionary tells us that a free press allows all media outlets to express whatever opinions they desire. That means, it says, that they are enabled to criticize the government and other organizations. So why would that be relevant in a democracy?


The answer seems pretty simple to us. A democracy is defined as a belief in equality and freedom amongst the people within it that is governed by a system that upholds that belief. So, if democracy is about freedom, then a free press is necessary to ensure that those freedoms remain intact. Any censorship on behalf of those with biased interests takes away the core of democracy.


Al Gore writes in his book, The Assault on Reason, that when the media forum is controlled, specifically by those with money, it limits good ideas created by those who cannot afford access. Specifically, he states, "when their opinions are blocked, the meritocracy of ideas that has always been the beating heart of democratic theory begins to suffer damage."


This is not to say that the rich are always the main problem in protecting and ensuring the existence of a free press. In truth, people will always avoid saying and presenting things that go against their own self interests. That is why it is so important for media outlets to employ people on both sides of a position and to give them the same amount of air time or written space. People cannot be informed fully if only one side of an argument is ever presented at length.


When the public is constantly exposed to liberal thoughts, and conservative positions are derided if even exposed, the marketplace of ideas is greatly hindered and twisted. The same is true when only conservative positions are presented without any counter balanced progressive input. As this occurs, we see people negating what was accomplished in 1787 when some of the most influential thinkers and individuals of the time converged on Philadelphia to ensure that this democracy was ruled by the people. The government should never be an entity that rules over them, according to the first words of the Constitution, "We the people".


That is why everything got divided into a checks and balances system. The Founding Fathers knew the human propensity towards issues of control. Absolute authority had to be hindered, and as long as this democracy has a free press, it can be. People must have access to the facts and to the truth. They have to be fully informed. Free press was included in the first constitutional amendment because it is critical to the maintenance of the dream that is America. The populace must be able to trust that the news they receive is revealing all sides, not just one agenda.


When a free press works as it should, it is a watchdog that protects the people it serves by keeping businesses, organizations, and the government under restraint. There is no other institution that has greater access to those in power than the media. They are there to uncover and reveal corruption no matter who will be affected by the truth. The truth is what has kept this democracy strong and a free press is the foundation it rests on. 

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MLK’s Funeral: Rare Photos

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was laid to rest in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 9, 1968, five days after his assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Many of those attending King’s memorial service and his funeral were, of course, nationally known ― activists, preachers, politicians, artists, athletes and others who had been by King’s side at countless marches and rallies through the years. But many, many more of the tens of thousands who lined Atlanta’s streets or walked behind the mule-drawn casket were “average” Americans: men, women, and children who came from around Atlanta and around the country to pay their final respects, in person, to a man who gave his life in the struggle for freedom, justice, and peace.

Here, in rarely seen pictures from the private service at King’s own Ebenezer Baptist Church and from the far larger public memorial afterward at his alma mater, Morehouse College, FOTO offers a portrait of that day ― a profile of a community in mourning, and yet unbowed.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
Coretta Scott King (1927 - 2006) listens to one of the speakers at the public memorial for her slain husband in Atlanta, April 9, 1968.

In a tribute to women of the Civil Rights Movement, Joy Reid reminded FOTO that Coretta Scott King once “had ordinary dreams of being a famous entertainer, and instead she became the mother of the movement. She had to navigate being a mom, explaining to four little kids why the threat of death constantly surrounded them. She had to be MLK’s voice when he was gone, and she did it regally, and with depth.”

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Robert F. Kennedy outside of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the first memorial of the day was held for Dr. King.

Less than two months later, Robert Kennedy himself was killed in Los Angeles by a Jerusalem-born assassin named Sirhan Sirhan, who today is serving a life sentence at a prison in southern California. Other prominent figures at both the private and public memorials included Sammy Davis, Jr., Jackie Kennedy, Mahalia Jackson, Marlon Brando, Eartha Kitt, Wilt Chamberlain, Thurgood Marshall, Sidney Poitier, Nelson Rockefeller, and many more.

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Actor, singer, and activist Harry Belafonte (center), his wife, Julie Robinson (left), and his son, David (seated in front of Belafonte), at the public memorial for Dr. King at Morehouse College.

Long one of the most high-profile and vocal celebrity activists in the U.S., Harry Belafonte supported the Civil Rights Movement from its earliest days, and was deeply involved in many of its signature events, from the Freedom Rides in the Deep South to the March on Washington in 1963.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
Andrew Young speaking at the public memorial for Dr. King at Morehouse College.
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Andrew Young was the executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); marched in (and was arrested in) many of the signature protests of the era; and was in Memphis with King when the civil rights leader was murdered. Young went on to serve in Congress; was twice elected mayor of Atlanta; has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and in his mid-80s remains active in progressive causes.

BOB VERLIN/PICTORIAL PARADE/ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
Part of the crowd of tens of thousands who marched in MLK’s funeral procession in Atlanta.

Of the service at Ebenezer Baptist, James Baldwin wrote in an essay for Esquire magazine that it “sort of washed over me, in waves. It wasn’t that it seemed unreal; it was the most real church service I’ve ever sat through in my life, or ever hope to sit through; but I have a childhood hangover thing about not weeping in public, and I was concentrating on holding myself together. I did not want to weep for Martin, tears seemed futile.”

ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
An overhead shot of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s casket, during the procession from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College.

“As we came out [of the church] and I looked up the road,” Baldwin wrote, “I saw them. They were all along the road, on either side, they were on all the roofs, on either side … and they stood in silence. It was the silence that undid me. I started to cry, and I stumbled, and Sammy [Davis Jr.] grabbed my arm. We started to walk.”

ARCHIVE PHOTOS/GETTY IMAGES
Onlookers crowding a rooftop in Atlanta on the day of MLK’s funeral.

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