Monday, March 16, 2009

Madison student receives national ACLU scholarship

The ACLU of Wisconsin is proud to announce the local winner of the national ACLU Youth Activist Scholarship Award! Madison West High School Senior, Natalia Thompson, is a student leader in young women’s rights and civic engagement. Her collaborative Madison SOS project inspired and involved an ACLU of Wisconsin workshop entitled, “Stand Up: Choose Your Own Activism Style” which teaches youth about planning effective strategies to have their voices heard at school and in their communities.

Natalia pictured center, top along with other student activists in Madison

Roots of an activist
In high school, Natalia started volunteering for student and community groups focusing on social justice issues like violence against women and reproductive justice. After interning on a Green Party U.S. Senate campaign in 2006 – a peace activist’s bid to become Wisconsin’s first female senator – Natalia developed a passion for helping other young women get involved in activism on the issues that most matter to them.

Thompson speaks at the national Girl Scouts convention

At age 15, she started working on her Girl Scout Gold Award to develop a project that advances a sustainable solution to a community issue. Natalia decided to focus her project, Madison SOS (Speak Out, Sister!), on advancing girls’ representation in policy-making and ensuring that girls’ voices are heard before decisions affecting their lives are made.

For the past two years, Natalia has led several Madison SOS initiatives, including a workshop series for high school teen girls on community leadership, a forum highlighting the work of local women leaders, a community mural celebrating girls’ visions for the future of Madison, and a platform for action on critical issues affecting local girls’ lives. Madison SOS has received national recognition as a model for youth-led social change.

Mural project

Focus on intergenerational bridge building
While this makes a full student schedule, Natalia isn’t resting in her senior year. She is now working with Madison’s Grassroots Leadership College to develop and co-facilitate a workshop on intergenerational community activism. She is taking what she has learned about working with youth to facilitate their inclusion in broader social movements.

“I've seen firsthand how youth are not only left out of traditional policy making by their inability to vote, but also from grassroots community organizations with an older leadership,” she said. “I'm hoping that I can be a part of a mutual learning process at the Grassroots Leadership College.”

In the future, she hopes to do more thinking and writing about how to make civil liberties movements have a stronger understanding of doing intergenerational work, reaching out to youth, and working effectively across age and other boundaries that separate those working for social change.

As a bonus to her scholarship award, this summer Natalia will join scholarship winners from across the country for the national ACLU Youth Leadership Institute where they will be able to meet ACLU staff, learn about what they do, and participate in leadership development trainings.

For more information on the ACLU’s Youth Activist Scholarship for high school students or the ACLU of Wisconsin’s “Stand Up” workshop, please contact Stacy Harbaugh, Community Advocate.