NoRMan receives national attention for efforts in youth activism

Della Johnson | Staff Writer

Being a minor hasn’t stopped senior Mariah Norman from pushing for major change.

Norman has been actively involved in politics for around three years. From attending various local and national protests to organizing her own, she has found her voice in activism and uses it to push for the issues she cares about. 

While students are under the legal voting age of 18, they may feel that they have limited options for participating in the United States’ democracy. Norman said she had always had an interest in current events, but she didn’t realize she was capable of making an impact until early in her high school career.

“I started getting into activism my freshman year,” Norman said. “(Before then), I didn’t realize students could have a say in what happened around them. I was always passionate about social issues. It’s always been something that I cared deeply for, but I didn’t realize that I have the capacity to take action for it.”

For Norman, it wasn’t until the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting occurred that she discovered what she had the potential to accomplish as a youth in America. Norman said she got involved with the 2017 walkout to the Mason fieldhouse, which ignited a spark in her.

“(I learned about) what happened in Parkland, with the school shooting that happened there, and the big uprising of student activism during that time,” Norman said. “I got involved with some people here at Mason and we planned the walkout at the high school. Being one of the lead organizers for that, just a freshman when everyone else was upperclassmen, was a big thrust into the whole world of activism. I was really passionate about continuing that action.”

In her three years of advocacy, Norman has started the Mason Youth Activist’s Club, sold bracelets for the Aruna project, launched her own nonprofit titled the Mariah Michelle Foundation, organized the Mason Black Lives Matter protest, and more. 

Though her experience in activism began years ago, Norman’s morals and motivation behind her actions have evolved greatly. All of these experiences, combined with encouragement and strong role models, have allowed Norman to gain more confidence in her message and herself.

“Looking back on my freshman self, I didn’t think that I would be who I am today and where I am today,” Norman said. “The person that I was was mostly focused on assimilating and fitting in, not talking about things that are controversial, not trying to seem like the ‘angry black woman’ [stereotype] in class. It’s definitely jarring to think about what my younger self would have thought of me. She was definitely a more meek version of myself, more scared of what people thought.”

With her first experiences in activism, Norman looked to upperclassmen leaders at Mason to teach her valuable lessons about involvement. She said the influence of those older students, as well as her leadership experiences, still impact the way she uses her voice today.

“[Upperclassmen] were a big influence on me; they all knew about how American democracy and political participation worked,” Norman said. “I took the lessons I learned from them into all the projects I’ve done since then. When we planned the walkout, we collaborated with so many different people and there were so many different ideas coming into it. It was a really pivotal moment for me in my activism career.”

Recently, Norman’s inspiration to speak out has expanded to other young activists of color, encouraging her to bring the global movements to her local streets.

“Most of the people that inspire me are different young activists, especially women of color, that are doing the work,” Norman said. “I really look up to them and everything that they’re doing, just seeing it on social media, all these different movements that are happening. It really inspired me to be able to take action in my community. I could see the things that were affecting the nation on a global scale, but also have an impact on people right here in a small suburb. I felt like it was a gap that needed to be bridged.”

Norman’s involvement has had no strict definition of projects–whether her impact was being made by fundraisers or protests–and she doesn’t think anyone else’s involvement has to look a certain way either. In fact, Norman encourages diversity in approaches to issues, which allows for a message to span across a wider audience range with contrasting backgrounds.

Along with the causes she supports, she also advocates for everyone to have a voice, especially in a town like Mason. She believes that, by simply holding out and speaking up for what they care about, anyone can be an activist.

“Activism can come in many forms, and you can be an activist in your everyday life,” Norman said. “In the way that you carry yourself, in the way that you speak about issues. I’ve always used my platform on social media and in classes, discussing things, to raise awareness about issues that I feel may be overlooked, especially in a predominantly white suburban society.”

With her leadership and strong voice on current issues, Norman has intrigued the attention of media outlets and organizations. Norman was recognized by local and national media alike for her efforts in activism, including The Washington Post, CBS, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and WCPO 9 News. She explained the opportunities that she has been given by local and national groups. 

“The Youth Activists club that I started is powered by the National Women’s March organization that does the annual march on Washington,” Norman said. “It’s actually a youth division of that organization. So, I’ve had a lot of ties with them and The Women’s March I’ve done a lot of different activism training programs, organizing schools, and summer camps, just opportunities that can make me a better organizer and activist in general. ”

All of this attention from the media is anything but familiar to Norman, who began activism because of her passion. She said that, though it may feel a little strange for her at times, she mostly sees the new support as a way to further her outreach.

“It’s been sort of surreal for me to be recognized for my work and the things that I do, since I just did it because it was important to me,” Norman said. “Now it’s getting media recognition. It’s very uncomfortable for me. It’s weird for me to talk about it, because it feels like something that was always so natural for me. To get a bigger platform to spread that message is really an honor. Honestly.”