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Millennials were such a huge generation — both in size and impact — that for a long time Gen Z has struggled under their shadow. After millennial pink and avocado toast, it seemed like the world was waiting for “the next version” of millennials, instead of being open to the newness of the future. But Gen Z brought the TikTok to your Instagram, the creator house to your influencer, the #ACAB to your #ImWithHer. Undoubtedly, 2020 has been Gen Z’s most visible year. Make no mistake, Gen Z isn’t the first generation to reinvent media or embrace radical politics, but they're doing so while the world is watching, mostly online and half-expecting they save the day. Let these people remind you just how imaginative and impactful youth can be. Here’s to doing the most with the least.
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Age: 19
Location
: New York City
Find me
@cyberdoula on Instagram.

Olivia McMayla Ross is a video artist and programmer. Her work as a “cyber doula” looks at how engaging with technology can be a source of trauma as well as a site for healing. Her current project Seeking Mavis Beacon is a hotly-anticipated investigation into the Black model that portrayed the woman who taught a generation how to type.

What's unique about Gen Z?

I think my generation underestimates how deeply they understand technology and politics. We're so innovative. Millennials complain about how Instagram is so toxic and full of performance. In response, Gen Z invented finstas and spam accounts, places you can be private and silly, and just hang out with your friends. We're using images in a new way, almost like a portal to new desires and fantasies, constructing our own identities. You see that in a super extreme way on TikTok — people using the obstructed gaze of social media to exercise fine control over their digital reality. We're so limited in our ability to live our full lives away from the keyboard in a pandemic, but Gen Z is living a totally different life plugged in. That said, I hope we can be more critical about perverse and invasive electronic infrastructures, instead of normalizing them or making them socially invisible.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

As a diagnosed workaholic, I think I'm obligated to say here that careers aren't real. But I think the struggle of being really cool at a young age (haha) is that I worry about failure a lot. I read a tweet recently that said Black women have difficulties identifying anxiety, depression, or stress because we identify those emotions as just the sensations of failure. There's no end to the mental wellness/self-care listicles on social media, but I think subconsciously I always believed that advice was for other people, not for me. Like, It's okay for everybody else to not write King Lear during quarantine, but not Olivia; she has to write it." Maybe that's the triple Virgo in me jumping out. I'm now trying to teach myself to prioritize simply "being okay" over being a better version of myself. It's a hard habit to break. Black life is too precious and fragile for me to live so disconnected from myself. So for the rest of 2020, I've decided: No more goals! I'm doing everything I want all the time.

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Age: 20
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Find me @
jaelah_marie on Instagram.

This summer, Jae-Lah Lymon, a student at the University of Minnesota, helped organize early protests in outrage over George Floyd’s killing. She sometimes organizes as a member of her local branch of the Students for a Democratic Society, which is working to disarm and defund campus police.

What’s unique about Gen Z?

We are not accepting things the way they are just because they have always been that way. We are not scared to question authority and challenge power in order to create a more equitable world. We have experienced and used technology for most of our lives, which has helped us connect and come together more than any generation before us. When used properly, technology can be beneficial. We are using it to teach ourselves the things that we are strategically not taught in schools, such as Black American history. 

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

Change doesn't happen overnight, so we must take time for self-care. Consuming media that dehumanizes and disregards Black human beings can be detrimental to your mental health, especially if you are a Black American. It can be exhausting constantly putting all of your time and energy into fixing problems that have been instilled at a systematic level. I used to feel guilty about taking time for self-care, but I had to understand that we are no use to the fight if our energy and hope is depleted.

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Age: 20
Location: Boston, MA
Find me
@ameyamarie on Instagram.

Ameya Marie Okamoto is the founder and creator of IRRESISTIBLE, a group of artists dedicated to making art for the revolution. She is currently researching the role of protest art in social movements and sustainable beautification. 

Do you think there’s anything unique about Gen Z?

Gen Z understands that everyone has a voice and the tools to amplify in the palm of our hands. Social media platforms enable young people to spread ideas and information quickly. Gen Z is the first generation to *grow up* with iPhones and access to the internet at our fingertips. Technology is Gen Z, whether we like it or not. In fact, I think many of us don’t even remember a time before the internet — when limitless, boundless access to information wasn't just a quick Google search away. I didn’t actually upgrade to an iPhone until my sophomore year of high school in 2016, but I think the majority of Gen Z will never understand the durability of a Nokia or the clout of having a Samsung Slide!

Complete the sentence: By this time next year

…I hope we radicalize.

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Age: 19
Location: Hudson Valley, NY
Find me @hailethomas on Instagram
As CEO and founder of the HAPPY Organization, Haile Thomas works on guiding her Gen Z peers through intersectional wellness initiatives (like a virtual self-care summer camp) that help them cultivate healthy lifestyles.
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What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020? 
One of the biggest lessons I've learned in 2020 is that it is imperative to prioritize inner peace. As part of a generation that is often touted as the individuals who will fix all that was broken by past generations, I think that weight, the sense of responsibility, and the constant stream of tragic news can contribute to mass anxiety and overwhelm that leads to burnout by the time we're twenty-five and it can create a belief that our self-care and peace as individuals is secondary to all of the issues we need to fix. This year, I've learned to continuously reaffirm the importance of my emotional and mental well-being to myself and others by setting boundaries, disengaging from unproductive information overwhelm, and carving out time for myself every day. I've noticed that I've become more motivated to continue my work in these pauses for inner peace. My mental clarity and ability to think of creative solutions have increased tenfold. 
How are you staying optimistic in 2020? 
I'm staying optimistic by trusting the process and nurturing community. I spent the first half of 2020 in denial of the sudden disruption of all I thought would happen in my life this year. I was so angered by how this global pandemic was handled by our "leaders" (still not happy about it!). But, I realized that staying in this state of resistance towards what I cannot change caused me unnecessary stress. Instead of heavily focusing on the unknown future, I've been practicing acceptance of each moment as it unfolds. Through this, I've somehow found a sense of inner stability and an ability to be more intentional with the actions I can take. Through this mindset, I've felt so much more empowered and open to discovering new ways to help contribute to a better world. It has led me to understand just how important it is to build community where we can support and encourage each other. The love and support that has shone through virtually in these times have highlighted the great heart of humanity. That constant reminder keeps me going.
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Age:19
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Find me
@andrayayearwood on Instagram.

Throughout high school, Andraya Yearwood ran track and field as a sprinter and made headlines for speaking out against violence against transgender people in sports and everywhere else. 

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

How crucial education is. I remember, even two years ago, being so naive to everything happening around me and specifically in the communities with which I identify. I was not all that aware of the injustices that have, and continue to, plague the minority communities that exist within our society. In my eyes, education is something very powerful and is often taken for granted, As one educates themselves, they simultaneously open their mind to a realm of new possibilities and knowledge. 

How are you staying optimistic in 2020?

I surround myself with people who continue to uplift and support me. We tend to spend a lot of time together, and during that time, we always make sure to enjoy one another’s company. We make sure to really focus on our interactions with each other, in that moment. Also, I make sure to focus on myself and what it is that I wish to get out of life. I feel that when we as a society get too wrapped up in what is going on in the media or the world around us, it can cause us to neglect what we are going through. We can, at times, forget to care for ourselves or just carve out some time for our own well-being. 

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Members: Olivia Ruby, 19 (she/her); Makhyli, 17 (she/her); Lillian Kay, 18 (she/her);  Queenie Mae Villaluz, 19 (she/her); and Elana Caceres, 18 (she/her)
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Find us
@boysworld on Instagram.

“BOYS” stands for “Best Of YourSelf.” This year, Boys World emerged as a fun girl group-creator house hybrid with a dedicated fanbase. The group’s first single “Girlfriends” came out on October 23.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020? 

During what some people might call a weird year, we’ve been practicing self-compassion. Even though we may feel anxious and fearful at times, we don’t ignore those feelings. We try to find ways to keep them from overwhelming us, like ordering our favorite foods to the house or having movie nights. Some of us have even rearranged our whole entire rooms five times. 

Complete the sentence: By this time next year... 

We hope to have our first full body of work out and maybe meet our supporters on a tour (if it is safe to do so!). It’s a dream for all of us to see our supporters’ faces in person as well as perform live shows. We can’t wait to hear them sing the lyrics back to us and just live in the concert vibes together!

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Age: 19
Location: Columbus, GA
Find me
@sweetmutuals on Instagram.

Ali Hicks or @SweetMutuals, as she’s best known online, is a makeup artist unlike any other. She’s established herself as a voice in the fashion industry by sharing her looks on Instagram. Her looks are colorful, exciting, and relevant, and have landed her coveted gigs like recently working with pop star Rina Sawayama.

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What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

There are multiple ways to stand up for what’s right and to protest. I have learned that I can do my part by writing calls to actions on my face with makeup and posting it on Instagram with helpful information, links, and captions. With it being quarantine, I have learned that it is necessary to relax and to rest, but it’s also healthy to be productive.

Complete the sentence: By this time next year... 

I hope we realize Black people deserve love, safety, and happiness. By this time next year, I hope we realize that Black people are beautiful, revolutionary, and limitless. 

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Age: 20
Location: Washington Heights, NYC 
Find me
@ivy.xtravaganza on Instagram.

Ivy Xtravaganza is, as her name suggests, a member of the legendary House of Xtravaganza, one of New York City’s heritage houses. As one of the younger members, she is carrying on the decades-old art of voguing into the future.

What's unique about Gen Z?

What makes Gen Z unique is… well, everything. We aren’t perfect, and we recognize that. Our generation really fights for what’s right in our hearts, and our actions follow suit. We are the generation of change for the greater good. 

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

Patience. I’m a Gemini; I’m naturally fast-paced. 2020 forced all of my biggest fears to come true and for me to bounce back from them. It wasn’t easy, but I’ve become a more mature and understanding person because of it. 

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Age: 20 
Location: New York and Washington D.C.
Find me
@thhrift on Instagram.

Sage Dolan-Sandrino is the founder and creative director of TEAM, a creative studio and digital zine by and for young BIPOC artists. Her work focuses on improving the representation of queer folk women like her by telling the stories of her peers.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

There is no higher power willing to save us. This world is ours, and only we are to be held accountable for this! As my Black trans siblings continue to be murdered in the streets and our homes, no one is answering my prayers or our calls for help. The same tools we use to organize become the very things that allow us to become complacent “clicktivists.” I wish people loved us  Black and brown trans/cis women as much as they loved posting about us. I recently turned 20 and I'm tired; tired of being a teacher, journalist, resource for non-Black, and non-queer folks always explaining why I matter. I am done explaining. I am focusing on my joy, my thriving, my life because it is clear to me no one else will prioritize my well-being.

Complete the sentence: By this time next year.... 

I hope we are safer, smarter, and alive. I hope trans girls are safe, with full and equal rights. Equipped with adequate cultural and legislative support needed for us to continue standing in our power and leading the way to a more just and inclusive country and world.

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Age: 16
Location: Allentown, PA
Find me @themadisonreyes on Instagram.

Madison Reyes plays the titular role in Netflix’s Julie & The Phantoms. She’s the young triple threat the world wasn’t ready for but has certainly welcomed.

What's unique about Gen Z?

We stand in packs; we apprentice each other for who we are, and we fight for what’s right. We are different in our own ways, from our taste in music to race, but we don’t let that stop us from seeing the good in each other and making a difference in the world one step at a time.   

How are you staying optimistic in 2020?

Taking it day by day, enjoying the little things, and not sweating minor inconveniences. I live in the past moments when I was with my friends having a good time, and looking forward to when we can all be together again.

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Age: 22
Location: New York, NY
Find me
@k_mingchang on Twitter.

K-Ming Chang’s debut novel Bestiary, which came out this September, is a coming-of-age story that deals with intergenerational trauma, queer desire, and family secrets.  

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

I've learned more about the importance of community care and building a community that sustains us in the long run. Rather than seeking external validation from authority figures or elsewhere, we take care of each other, and I'm more and more grateful every day for all my peers and friends (as the poet Safia Elhillo says, "horizontal ancestors"!) I also learned how to take ownership of my own work rather than leading with an apology, though it's a work in progress!

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How are you staying optimistic in 2020?

I'm trying to focus on the importance and possibility of change and imagination. So many people are doing the work right now of imagining a future that centers restorative justice and abolition and resistance, and those are the voices I want to listen to now and forever.

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Age: 17
Location: Fargo, ND
Find me
@fatraco0n on TikTok.

Jax James is one of TikTok’s outstanding voices. She’s uncompromising, candid, vulnerable, and unapologetic. She’s been instrumental in holding the platform accountable for silencing Black voices and leads by example when it comes to setting boundaries with racists.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

When something bad happens, just give it time…it will likely turn into a blessing, you just didn’t know it.

Complete the sentence: By this time next year...

I hope weare still educating one another to right the wrongs the world is still facing.

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Age: 22
Location: San Francisco, CA
Find me
@pansystbattie on Instagram.

Burlesque is mistakenly thought to be an art form of the past, one that imposed strict beauty standards and objectified women. But performers like Pansy St. Battie have turned it into a genre where anyone can challenge white heteronormativity and showcase their true beauty.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

What compassion and mutual aid and support can look like on a massive scale. I’ve been lucky to be involved in groups where mutual aid is a part of the culture, but it’s always been within the small communities. This year, almost everyone needed the support of community members at times, and while some people chose to avoid responsibility, so many put in the effort to support each other. Seeing that that is possible, and thinking about how to make that sustainable, has been something I’ve been grateful to learn.

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How are you staying optimistic in 2020?

Staying optimistic in 2020 is hard, but the truth is, I’ve dealt with illness, loss, and bigotry for a large portion of my life. I know how adaptable I am, and I know I have a support system behind me. I already had the coping skills I needed. I feel like I went into this year with a huge advantage for that. I know how to take time to mourn, to experience tragedy, and to struggle. I know how to still forge ahead and push to do the things I want to do alongside that.

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Age: 21
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Find me
@carolinericke Instagram.

Caroline Ricke is an ironic portrayal of the vapid, self-centered, and cutting influencer. Her persona is a carefully crafted satyr, and joining the anti-TikTok house, The House That Nobody Asked For, is only the beginning.

What has been the biggest lesson you've learned in 2020?

I never thought my life would turn out the way it has. Last year, I was making YouTube videos in my college dorm, and now I am entertaining over 2 million people online?! And people actually are entertained by my humour?! Crazy. Also, we're in the midst of a global pandemic where the whole world is in quarantine, something  I never thought I would see in my lifetime.

How are you staying optimistic in 2020?

It is not easy to stay optimistic during these times, but living in a house with seven other social media creators (in The House Nobody Asked For) keeps me pretty busy!  I am so lucky that I get to live and work with my friends. There’s never a dull moment.

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It's a cliché, but this year was supposed to be our year — full of independence, opportunity, or at least a few weekend afternoons spent with more than 10 friends with fewer than six feet between us. But with COVID-necessary social distancing, a shitty job market, and closed campuses, 2020 hasn't given us much to work with. Past generations have had to deal with a recession, social upheaval, and changing norms: We've had to deal with all of it at once.

So, what now? What do we do with our careers, our relationships, and our lives? How do we move forward when we're still stuck in our high school bedrooms? These stories are for us — filled with the resources, blueprints, and people who are finding ways to turn all this garbage into something like lemonade.

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