Hailie Bonz, 17, is one of two winners of the Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award.

“Is Iran going to carpet bomb us because they lost?”

Those words were spoken by Hailie Bonz’s teacher after her students had just finished watching an Iran v. United States soccer game in class. The assumption that all Iranians were violent was wrong and since Hailie is Iranian and African-American, the words stung even more. But Hailie credits the painful incident, which led to an investigation and the teacher in question being put on leave, with helping her find her voice and sense of purpose against oppressive power structures.

Hailie, 17, of Urbandale, is one of two winners of the Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award. She is being honored for organizing student walkouts against SF 496 at her school as a co-facilitator of CORE (Community of Racial Equity), along with other accomplishments.

That legislation, signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds, bans most books depicting sex from grades K-12, bans teaching and materials referencing gender identity and sexual orientation through sixth grade, and requires school administrators to out students to parents or guardians if the student asks to use a name or pronouns other than those assigned at birth.

Hailie is also the only student plaintiff in a new lawsuit filed by publisher Penguin Random House and the Iowa State Education Association challenging the anti-LGBTQ book ban law. Other plaintiffs include teachers, librarians, and well-known writers like John Green, Jodi Picoult, and Laurie Halse Anderson. The ACLU of Iowa with Lambda Legal is also challenging SF 496 on behalf of eight Iowa students and the LGBTQ+ youth group, Iowa Safe Schools. 

“Books are a bridge that connects everything and everyone,” Hailie said. “Students need access to these resources.”

The law almost prevented Hailie from being able to read "1984" by George Orwell for one of her classes after Urbandale came up with an initial list of 374 books to remove from shelves. After public outcry sparked by Hailie herself and others speaking out in the press, Urbandale reduced the list to 64 books. So Hailie was ultimately able to read the dystopian tale, which, ironically is centered on the government Thought Police. 

“I think a lot of young people like me can lose hope seeing systems operate the way they are in this political environment,” Hailie said. “But it’s important to keep fighting.” 

Hailie is currently a senior at Urbandale High School, where she serves as student body president and a student representative on the Urbandale school board. She also continues her work in CORE.

If you know a young person or group of young people in Iowa who should be nominated for the Mannheimer award in 2024, click here. Nominations will next open in early fall 2024.