When she was in elementary school, Malika Davis began an initiative to uplift the mental health of her schoolmates: a community garden.
 
Malika, often a target of bullying due to her skin color and gender identity, watched her peers grow empowered as they nurtured something new.
 
The garden was a testament to the compassionate personal philosophy that Malika, now a 16-year-old Ames High School student and 2019 Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award recipient, holds to this day. 
 
Malika is being honored at the ACLU of Iowa Bill of Rights Brunch on Oct. 12 for organizing a peaceful response to a Westboro Baptist Church visit to her school and her leadership as a youth board member at Ames Pride, advocating for LGBTQ issues.
 
As a transgender woman of color, she focuses on transforming the hate she’s experienced into compassion and forgiveness.
 
“I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say it’s a cakewalk, but it’s a road that I’m walking and still walking. I’m taking it day by day,” she said.
 
Malika followed that road of compassion and forgiveness when the Westboro Baptist Church visited Ames High School this past April, their first appearance in the city in nearly a decade.
 
Instead of engaging the organization in an “anti-protest,” Malika focused on organizing a show of solidarity for students to feel safe and welcome. Community members handed out breakfast items, covered the sidewalks in displays of positivity, and greeted everyone who entered the school.
 
As a youth board member at Ames Pride, she has helped plan several panels, lectures, and youth-led sessions for parents and transgender students, like the All Ages Drag Shows at the Ames Public Library.
 
Malika is also involved in her school’s trial and debate team. She hopes to use the research and public speaking skills she's cultivated to serve as an attorney for undocumented youth one day.
 
“I want to use any platform I can and any tools I can to help advocate for marginalized communities,” she said.
 
A second-place award goes to Josephine Youngbear of the Meskwaki Settlement School. An advocate for indigenous peoples, Josephine has participated in speech competitions to increase awareness of racial justice
 
A third-place award goes to Kevin Drahos of Linn-Mar High School. Kevin served as his school’s first openly gay class president and student council president. He’s worked to increase understanding of LGBTQ issues and gun violence. As a member of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, he also wrote and advocated for legislation like net neutrality and automatic voter registration.
 
These students will be honored at the ACLU of Iowa Bill of Rights Brunch on Sunday, October 12, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hilton Downtown in Des Moines. More details here.
 
The ACLU of Iowa Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award is a $500 cash prize given to a young Iowan aged 14 to 19 who hashave demonstrated a passion and advocacy for civil liberties. It is named as a memorial to Des Moines attorney and civil liberties advocate Robert Mannheimer.
 
For more information on the Robert Mannheimer award, click here.