I wanted to call this post “Hope in Action” because that is what I see and think about when I hear the name Hannah Alper. How else do you describe a person who, by the age of 9, had discovered what she was passionate about and was already putting her words into action? I think she is amazing. (I have it on good authority that her parents think she’s pretty great, too.) However, I didn’t want to confuse readers or project my feelings onto you. Oh, who am I kidding? You know me. That is exactly what I want to do because Hannah Alper is one young activist in a new generation of activism where hope is at the forefront and the messes we have made (So many messes!) will be cleaned up.
I sat down recently with Hannah (Ed. Well, we were actually sitting in our respective homes about 1260 km away as the crow flies. Technology is amazing, isn’t it?) to interview her about her soon to be released book, “Momentus : Small Acts, Big Change”, and talk to her about her activism and her life.
I was so honoured to be given a sneak peek of Hannah’s first book and I couldn’t wait to talk to her about it and her life. At 14, her enthusiasm is contagious and her focus is steadfast. I know that her book will be well received and I loved the preview I was given so much, I have vowed to buy several copies as soon as it is released. In fact, I was so intrigued by the concept and what I actually got to read that I have pre-ordered my own copy of the book and I will definitely be purchasing a few extra copies for my kids and teacher friends. For the book Hannah interviewed 19 people who have found their passions and are using them to make the world a better place. Some of the names are instantly recognizable, like Lilly Singh, and some will surprise you, but each person has had an impact on Hannah and she does an amazing job getting to the root of their individual causes and the change they create. I think it would actually make a wonderful gift for the holidays. You can also pre-order the book, which will be released on November 1, 2017, at Chapters Indigo and Amazon Canada.
Hannah and I talked for over an hour and I wish I had a hair and makeup team because honestly, that interview was so amazing. Hannah is honest, funny, insightful, and so very smart. I am telling you from the bottom of my heart, this girl is going to change the world. One small act at a time.
I had ten questions for Hannah and she very graciously and thoroughly answered every single one (even though it was late in the evening on a school night). We had a great conversation and the following is my best attempt to share the Q & A part of our conversation.
How do you keep your energy up for your initiatives?
Honestly, I always just think of the “why” of everything that I do. I think of all the issues that I’m fighting for, like education, poverty, and anti-bullying. I think of the impact I’ve already made so far and just all that hope that I can get even more impact and more people believing that they can make a difference. Honestly, that’s what keeps my energy up. It’s also the young people that I see everyday. The kids in the classroom. They’re in a WE club and that means that they’re making a difference. That’s outstanding. That’s remarkable! The things that these kids that have earned their way to WE Day have been able to do. It’s really incredible and so honestly, I do that for them and sort of hoping that I can give that little push. For me, what I do isn’t work. A lot of people say, “Oh it must be so much work!”. It does take practice. It is definitely difficult. It is hard sometimes, but it’s so much fun for me. I feel very fulfilled and that feeling definitely keeps me going.
How do your peers react to you being in the spotlight so much?
I’ve had the opportunity to meet youth from all over the world. I’ve talked to them over social media and it’s amazing. These people really love what I do and they’ve taken an interest in what I do. Saying that, in my school last year – because I am in High School now – so in Elementary School at least in Grade 8, people understood what I did they were negatively judging everything that I was doing and it wasn’t such a great year. Some people were criticizing everything that I was doing, but whatever, if you’re not doing something like I’m doing. If you are not an activist, or whatever, that’s okay, because that just might not be your thing. You might not be into that yet. So that is what I kept thinking. I just kept thinking positive thoughts all throughout last year because it was difficult and whatever, but I mean now that I’m in High School it’s actually amazing. I find there are so many people and different groups. There are so many people in High School and all of those people have different interests. I’ve met so many people who admire what I do and it is very reassuring and gratifying to know that there are my peers, at my school, that support what I do and I love that. I really do love that I have those people who support me and clubs are also really great – like the WE Club – that the kids have. It’s a really great way to find your people, really. I’m in a mental health club called Jack.org, a female empowerment club called Girl Up – I love it because I have people who are passionate about so many different things, and that’s what I have always wanted. Everyone wants to be part of a community and my community are the people who make a difference, who want to take action. I’m really happy that over the years and in my journey, I’ve found those people. Last year I didn’t get to connect so much at school, but that was okay because that’s the great thing about social media I got to connect with my people online instead. (Note: Hannah wrote a whole chapter in the book on peer relations where she goes in to great detail on this particular subject. Hard to write. Hard to relive while writing. She did it though because it matters and it was ultimately fulfilling and cathartic.)
How do you navigate school when you have to miss several days in a row (or longer) so you don’t miss out or get overwhelmed with falling behind & catching up?
It can definitely be very difficult, but I am so lucky that I have the support of educators. Aside from my parents, educators have been my biggest champions. They have never said, “No. We can’t do that for you, Hannah. We can’t support you.” They have never said that. They have always said, “No can’t, no won’t only how.” They’ve always said, “Yes, Hannah. We will support you. We’ll find a way.” I have been away a lot. In Grade 5 I travelled for 10 weeks across Canada, nonstop, talking about education. I’ve been away 10 days in the past three weeks of school doing WE Day and incredible things, but I am so happy I have my teachers’ support. They realize that what I do is really furthering my education. The Board of Education in my region (York Region District School Board) is also so supportive of everything I do. I could not do anything that I do without them. I really couldn’t. I can’t emphasize that enough. I couldn’t do my tests and projects because I do miss a lot of school and it can be very difficult to catch up sometimes especially because I’m not that great at Math, but I am so happy that I have teachers who will sit down with me and who have taken the time to work with me on Math. I really, really, appreciate everything that my educators have done for me and my journey. It’s indescribable.
Who would you say the book is for – mostly – or do you feel it is for everyone?
I would say that is is definitely for everyone. Especially for people who are looking to make a difference, but don’t really know how. Or it’s for someone who is looking for their passion. This book really has a variety of passions, it features real life stories, from real life people, who have created real life big change. I’m hoping people can see themselves in the people I have featured and the stories I tell. I hope they’ll walk away from the book, they’ll put it down and right after they put it down they’ll take action. They’ll go outside and they’ll go take action. That’s really my hope. I think that my demographic is people that want to make a difference, but for everyone, of all ages, no matter where you live, no matter how much money you have because you can make a difference. So this is to give them that little push, in a way.
Do you ever stop to think about the fact that you are 14 years old and have done so much and had such an impact on the world?
It’s definitely very surreal to think that I am creating this change and giving that small urge to people to make a difference and that sometimes it works and sometimes people do make a difference because of what I have to say. I am so grateful to have that platform and to have these outlets of social media and my voice that I can amplify my voice and raise my voice on the issues that I care about and people listen. People will listen to you no matter what you say. It should be positive. It’s definitely weird when I’m on a flight to New York or California, to go do a speech or something, I definitely think of those moments. I think, ‘I’m me, I’m 14, I’m on a plane and I am going to speak to all these people.’ I still get a little, well not starstruck, but it’s still very surreal when gI’m talking to Marc and Craig and I just give them a casual hug and then I get to call them my mentors. It’s a very lucky thing that I get to say Marc and Craig Kielburger are my mentors. They are such inspiring people. They have helped me so much in my journey. I couldn’t do any of what I do without them, but it’s so weird to be at an event with them and be following the speech after Marc or Craig. It’s very surreal and I think it’s the same for my whole family. It’s surreal, but at the same tome we are aware of that and that life is short and we are going to make the most of it and talk about what we care about and talk about our passions.
I know in MomentUS – such a great name – 19 very important people or families are featured, is there someone you would LOVE to be in your next book or someone else you wish you could have featured in MomentUS?
Scooter Braun is such an incredible man. He is a manager. He manages Justin Bieber & Ariana Grande. His brother is Adam Braun who founded Pencils for Promise. He is a very genuine person and he puts everything of what he is into his work. I admire his work ethic and kindness. He puts his family first. He’s such a great guy and he talks about his passions and issues on social media on his platform. He’s an incredible guy. He was on the cover of Success Magazine (because he’s just that cool) and when that came out he sent a thanks on social media to Success and shared his thoughts on what success really is, and ended with “I’m a work in progress, but when I go I hope I am successful for what I gave and not for what I took.” Oh, he’s just amazing. I would love to interview him someday.
How do you keep your spirits up when sad things happen in the world?
I was recently scrolling through the news on Twitter and it was one thing after another. California, Las Vegas, Hurricanes, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and the politics that are happening. I thought, ‘Man! This is depressing.’ There are definitely moments when I see all of that, all those really big issue and I think ‘What can I do? What can I do about that? I am just one person. What can I do about that?’ There are definitely times when I get very depressed by all of that and I like being informed about what’s going on in the world, but sometimes it’s very overwhelming seeing everything. I was scrolling through Twitter, reading everything that was going on and it was all negative, very violent. It does get me very depressed, but then at the same time I sort of remember everything that I do and I keep being positive. I put on a brave face. Honestly, I know it sounds cliché, but I really do think that love makes the world go round. If we spread positivity, kindness, and hope – a lot of hope – taht definitely we can create that culture and replace this culture that we have currently of hate and indifference with love and kindness and compassion. And we do have a lot of that which is so evident at all the WE Days and even in things like the WE clubs at schools.
I went to my first … I won’t call it a protest … march in January. It was the Women’s March. Politics aside, it was about standing united. I went with my parents and it was so amazing. I can’t really think of a word to describe it. There’s no word. It was very motivating because I saw this community, right in front of me, that was doing something about it and the truth is that we really do have the power to do something about this kind of stuff. We do. We can march, peacefully, of course, but we can spread this kindness and positivity and be informed of what’s going on, but talking about it. We can’t be silent while all this goes around. We have to actually talk about it and I think the world is a work in progress. We all are. We’ll never be perfect. I’ll never be perfect. You’ll never be perfect. We’re never going to be perfect. I’m not going to lie. This time is definitely depressing, but we all have to keep a positive outlook.
If you could say one thing to to a young person who is standing on the brink of ALL things WE or activism at large, what would you say to inspire the choice to be a social activist?
Why not! Why not be a social activist? Why not stand up for what you believe in? There’s no con to it and if the skeptics are haters, so be it. You can make a difference. There’s no reason that you can’t. Anyone who has ever tried to make a difference, has. No matter how small or big the impact. I interviewed Travis Price for my book (The Pink Shirt Day guy!) and he didn’t know how big that would become, but he did it anyway. You just never know, so why not start? Why not!
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing the book was when I would get writer’s block. It was just very frustrating. I would get a writing block and be thinking ‘ … but this is something really cool… I just don’t know what to say.’ So that was definitely difficult. That was an obstacle.
What was the absolute best part?
Definitely doing the interviews and talking to these amazing world changing people. They’re all changing the world in such different ways, but in such awesome ways. In actually talking to them, I learned something new from every single interview and I looked at the world in a different way, with a new outlook. Learning their stories and learning their words to live by. I love it. I carry each person’s words to live by with me everyday. That was definitely my favourite part and I think it was my parents’ favourite part, too. Actually hearing those interviews. It was an incredible experience actually talking to those people because they’re my role models. Every single person I featured in the book is my role model. From this experience of writing my book, I got to interview Malala. Opportunities like that. That was the best.
I hope this gives you an idea of how much Hannah cares. Whether it’s the environment, anti-bullying, or social activism, Hannah is having a big impact. To mark this momentous occasion I think we all should buy a book! Oops! There I go telling you what to do again. (Seriously. Buy the book.)