Interview + article by Maria Miller
If you’re passionate about something go for it! Don’t let age or what people may think stop you. That’s something I learned from the brilliant Victoria Pannell who has done so much for not only her community, but for people everywhere whether its directly or indirectly. At such a young age she has accomplished so much and she has only gotten started. Tools for Change is a growing organization that will only get bigger especially since it’s in such capable hands. Want to start your own organization? What are you waiting for, go ahead and do it. Want to make a change in your community? It’s possible, I know you can do it. Just remember it doesn’t take a village to make something happen, all it takes is one dedicated person.
What is Tools for Change and what was the reason that you started it?
I started Tools for Change, because you can not tell young people to have hope when all they see is bleakness in their future. They need tools to have a better future. They need state IDs, passports, bank accounts, jobs and financial literacy. They need to learn to use social media as an effective networking tool. They need to know that money for college will be there for them. They need an organization that will supply the necessities to help achieve their goals. This is where Tools For Change comes in.
Please share where you see Tools for Change in the next couple of years.
Because I am getting ready to go to college, I would love to start a chapter wherever I am at. I want Tools For Change to expand into chapters all around the country. I also would like to have my own building.
When did you realize that you wanted to do something for your community and why?
I was the youngest volunteer in a hurricane Katrina relief effort and seeing so many homes destroyed made me realize I wanted to help people in general. I didn’t know in what area I wanted to help in yet, but I knew I wanted to do something for others.
How do you manage your time between Tools for Change, school and all your extracurricular activities?
It’s really hard and I barely get any sleep. The only way I handle all of it is by incorporating everything. I look at everything as the same thing, under the same umbrella which makes things a lot easier. The school I attend is also very socially aware and active so I get to discuss Tools for change with them. And even though I mostly keep to myself, the two or three friends I have help me out with everything. Keeping a calendar, which is a little nerdy, not only helps me remember things, but it also keeps me organized.
Did being on the show Law and Order- SVU bring out any acting passions you might have or was it purely done to bring attention to the issue of sex trafficking?
I’m actually a professional actor since age four and it’s something I really enjoy. I get the opportunity to meet so many people and celebrities. Acting gave me the chance to build my craft, dive into different characters, and it was a great boost to see more of life. And although it’s fun, I have moved away from acting now that I’m older and moving into something I want to pursue in life.
Could you share with us how shutting down Lil Wayne’s music came about?
I work with the Emmett Till foundation and try to keep his name alive by going to schools and telling people his story. Emmett Till had allegedly flirted with a white woman, so her husband and his half brother beat, tortured, and dumped him in a river. Lil Wayne came out with a song comparing the beating of a woman’s female parts to the beating of Emmett till. The Till foundation had reached out to me so I could help them do something since I was young and I could reach out to other young people. Therefore, I reached out Mountain dew through social media and after 24 hours they contacted me with the news that they were suspending the tour he was doing using that same song. I was thanked for my work and received a letter. That day I realized that my voice had power and could make a change. I learned that young people can do whatever they put their minds to and we shouldn’t let others say that we can’t do something.
How did you feel knowing some of Lil Wayne’s followers might verbally attack you?
I didn’t care. I go head first into an issue without caring what people think or how they will feel about it. I knew people who are Lil Wayne’s fan, but I simply didn’t care. I felt that what I was saying was more important than what people might think or them bashing me. I’m going to tell you how I feel without letting others stopping me.
Have you encountered people that have doubted you or believed you to be too young or naive to actually help? If so, how did you deal with it?
Being the youngest member on the community board is a lot of pressure because several of the members have been serving on the board for 10 years or more. They look at me as if I don’t know what I’m doing which is quite frankly pretty intimidating, but I always have to remind myself that I’m here for a reason and a purpose. I know what I’m doing and talking about. I face people who doubt me all the time and the best thing to do is know your worth because people are going bash you and not support you, but you have to support yourself. If you don’t you won’t make it far.
Who is your idol or role model and why?
Even though my mother can get on my nerves, she is most definitely my role model. She has encouraged me to do things and taught me lessons that I will always carry with me. She has taught me to know my worth and value which is so important because a lot of young people let others walk all over them and tell them what they can and can’t do. She always tells me to stand up for myself and my beliefs because people will try to push me down. I learned to stand by people who believe and support me and that I shouldn’t be too quick to trust.
What is something you would tell other young adults who want to help the community like you have but don’t know how to start?
Identify an issue that is important to you and stays on your mind no matter what it is. Then do your research and find out everything you can about your cause. You don’t want others to say “you’re an activist, but don’t know what you’re talking about”. After you have done that, start working with other organizations that support your cause until you decide you want to start an organization yourself. One of the most important things you could do is know the benefits of social media. Used appropriately, it can be your best friend which is why it’s so important to keep your page clean.