This piece was originally published on the UN Foundation blog.
This Black History Month, the historic achievements and contributions of Black Americans are taking the spotlight. But there’s also growing conversation around the next generation of African American history makers like Denia Brielle Smith. From her hometown in New Jersey to global meetings, her commitment to racial justice is an inspiration — not just for Americans but for everyone who wants to live in a world where we leave no one behind.
Denia Brielle Smith was just a high school sophomore in New Jersey when she took a stand after a fellow student posted a racist video on TikTok.
“I found that teachers and classmates rarely perceived Black students as leaders, and I witnessed a delayed urgency among community members in addressing racial injustices in academia,” she said.
So Denia decided to do something about it. She got students, teachers, and community members to come together for conversations about race, discrimination, and educational inequity. These discussions led to the development of an Anti-Racist Action Plan for school officials and the formation of an advocacy group for people of color in her community. Ultimately, her work brought racially equitable education reform to five schools.
“I sought to ensure that young people can collaborate with educational stakeholders to implement solutions impacting present and future generations,” Denia, now a college freshman, explained.
The activism and advocacy Denia demonstrated in high school have expanded and become more pathbreaking in the years since. Denia shared that the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 compelled her to amplify the voices of Black and brown youths in her community.
She organized a Black Lives Matter march that was one of the largest demonstrations in her hometown’s history. One thousand people came out in support of the cause.
Centering the Voices of Girls and Women From the African Diaspora
In 2022, Denia launched a podcast, She Shall Speak, to elevate the voices and experiences of young minority women.
“I continuously seek to amplify the voices of the historically marginalized,” she says. And that intention is clear from the first episode of the podcast.
From teenage entrepreneurs to authors to leaders in tech, the podcasts’ guest lineup reads like a list of future world leaders who are already making an imprint on their communities and countries. The podcast strikes the right chord in a world where Black voices are still struggling to be heard.
“Tune in every Wednesday at 3:00 pm EST as we innovate, recreate, and re-write the narrative. Together, we will tell our story,” reads the description for the weekly program. So far, the podcast has amplified the voices of Black women and girls across 25 U.S. states, 20 countries, and counting.
Going Global: The Journey with Girl Up
When Denia became a Teen Advisor for Girl Up in 2021, she took her advocacy for intersectional justice global.
In her work with the initiative, founded at the UN Foundation, she has shared forums with notable activists, even hosting a conversation during the 2022 Global Leadership Summit with Tarana Burke, an activist and author and the founder of the “Me Too” movement. From 102 countries around the world, 1,500 participants tuned in to the event.
Organizing and Advocating for Marginalized Voices
So what’s next for a young trailblazer who has already done so much to organize and advocate for marginalized voices to be included in efforts to ensure justice for all?
Individuals disproportionately impacted by societal inequities must be at the decision-making tables if we are going to build an equitable society.Denia brielle smith
“As we look toward the future, it’s imperative that we not only listen to marginalized communities but work alongside them in achieving tangible change for all,” says Denia. Her dream is to help shape an America “grounded in justice.”
“Individuals disproportionately impacted by societal inequities must be at the decision-making tables if we are going to build an equitable society,” she says.
Inspired by Denia’s story to chart a course toward a more just, equitable world that leaves no one behind? Read more about her activism and advocacy here, and check out these resources:
Black Lives Matter Resources
Black Girls Rock | Black Girls Lead
She Shall Speak