Before she entered middle school, Naomi Wadler had gone viral.
On March 24, the 11-year-old fifth-grader was onstage speaking at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. During her three-minute speech, she spoke decisively about the lack of sustained media attention that girls and women of color receive when they are impacted by gun violence. “I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” she said. “I am here to say Never Again for those girls too.”
Her speech was quickly circulated online, earning her fans like Sen. Kamala Harris, Shonda Rhimes, Tessa Thompson and Ellen DeGeneres. When I spoke with Wadler three weeks after her launch into the national conversation, she said the whole experience had been “weird,” but was still ready to use her new platform to give me and my fellow journalists some strong advice.
“The media can pay attention. I feel that a lot of them are very ignorant,” she told me, stressing that this ignorance is particularly clear when it comes to white journalists perpetuating racial stereotypes about black and brown people. “It’s the racial imbalance in the reporting that starts a chain reaction where then other people start to believe that.”
Wadler is certainly extraordinary. The fifth-grader first made headlines when she and classmate Carter Anderson planned a walkout at their elementary school in Alexandria, Virginia, in the wake of the Parkland shooting in February. (Wadler’s mother, Julie Wadler, who identifies as a moderate Republican according to The Guardian, went to high school with the father of Parkland victim Jaime Guttenberg.) On March 14, more than 60 students joined Wadler and Anderson in an 18-minute protest ― one minute for each victim of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and an extra minute for Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old black high school student shot and killed in an Alabama classroom days earlier.
But Wadler is also still a kid. She giggles over the phone, does her interviews with her mother nearby, and has big, beautiful dreams not yet encumbered by the cynicism that so often accompanies getting older.
At Tina Brown’s Women in the World Summit on Saturday, she reiterated the power young people hold. “I’m not an 11-year-old girl who they can just hug and kiss,” she said. “I can deliver a message.”
During our phone conversation ahead the summit, Wadler and I spoke about her newly expansive platform, her hopes for the future, and her advice for us adults ― especially adult journalists. Us olds often forget just how smart kids are in general ― and how thoughtful, knowledgeable and opinionated we might have been at 9 or 11 or 15.
As Wadler explained, it’s on adults to check ourselves, step back and listen to young people. They “see the world through a different set of eyes,” she said.