From taking on social change to environmental activism, representation and sex education, meet the individuals worthy of a spot on your radar this year
Raise your hand if you’ve done the proverbial social media cleanse at the start of the year. Was it a full-blown social media detox or more a cleansing of your following list? The latter might not seem like much, but there’s something to be said (and something deeply satisfying) about pursuing this digital clean slate. Meticulously filtering through who you follow, being sure to keep just the accounts that are good for you, your mind and your heart is a legitimate form of self-care. And if we’re on the topic of building that list up again––this time, more intelligently––we have outstanding candidates here for your consideration.
A diverse list of modern-day thought leaders to keep you in the know and trailblazers to keep an eye out for, they might be new names, familiar faces or personalities you’ve read about briefly in headlines. The point is to keep tabs on them this time. And who knows? Following their respective advocacies, organizations or projects might just get you inspired enough to move along with them or bring about a much-needed perspective change.
Oregon native Najiah Knight knows that girls belong in Professional Bull Riding. And at 13-years-old, she’s walking her talk. Making headlines in early January for her stint on the miniature bull riders circuit, Knight is poised to become the first female bull rider to join the PBR. “Girls can do anything they want, and if people tell them they can’t, that makes me mad,” said Knight to The New York Post. “I’ve been told that before, and I tell them that I wasn’t doing it for them, I was doing it for me. And I don’t care what they think.”
Influencer, Climate Activist and Humanitarian
Once written off as Kim Kardashian’s ex-assistant-turned-influencer, 30-year-old Stephanie Ann Shepherd has blazed through the last couple of years, adding worthwhile advocacies to her résumé. She is the co-founder of Future Earth, a climate change awareness social channel that doubles as a guide to “living clean, active and informed.” Shepherd also works as the strategic advisor of the non-profit charity organization Khana, which provides young girls in Uganda with education about menstrual hygiene and equips them with reusable sanitary pads and panties (so they no longer have to miss school days just because of their period).
Inventor, Founder of the Ocean Cleanup
What was initially presented as a concept at TEDxDelft 2012 became a reality just a year after. At 18 years old, Dutch engineer Boyan Slat founded The Ocean Cleanup, a system that extracts plastics from the ocean and prevents and intercepts any more plastic pollution from entering it. Slat and his team are now aiming to address plastic pollution in 1,000 rivers all over the world by 2025.
Founder and Executive Director of WiTech.org
“My dad didn’t raise me to live up to stereotypes.” 17-year-old Audrey Pe is not one to mince words and she is straightforward whenever she recounts the discouragement received, well-intentioned or not, upon expressing interest in things like coding and programming. “There is a gender gap in tech,” added Pe. “Women are paid less [and are] underrepresented.” This is what motivated the student to create WiTech.org with her schoolmates. With a mission to educate, inspire and empower the youth, WiTech hopes to break gender barriers and serve as a springboard for young women so they can make a positive change in society with the help of modern technology.
Model and Recording Artist
A staunch advocate of anti-bullying, multihyphenate Shaun Ross knows a thing or two about dealing with unjust criticism, out in the open, by both peers and complete strangers. As a person with albinism, he made history when he became the first man with this genetic disorder to become a fashion model. And while this proved the naysayers from his youth wrong, this also granted him a platform to educate people about albinism and enabled him to spearhead “In my Skin I Win,” a movement aimed at encouraging individuals to practice self-acceptance.
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Dr. Jennifer Gunter
Gynecologist and Author of ‘The Vagina Bible’
She’s the OB-GYN out to debunk sexual health myths––one tweet at a time. American-Canadian gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter is an excellent new follow for those who appreciate useful healthcare tips, fun facts and a healthy dose of sex positivity. Streaming this video of one of her forums entitled, “Let’s Talk About The Vagina, Goop, and The Patriarchy,” will give you a proper gist of what to expect from this no-nonsense and outspoken health practitioner.
Up next, get to know some of the most inspiration-inducing Internet folk across your favorite online platforms: click on to read ‘People to Follow to Keep You Motivated.’
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver