One young woman’s determination to reshape the world around her.
BY JESSE MINTZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PETRA FORD
Listening to Mary-Pat Hector, it’s not a stretch to imagine her in the White House someday. If she has her way, that day will be soon.
The 19-year-old speaks with passion and purpose—even when discussing personal and painful memories.
She shares the story of the first sit in she organized when she was just 11; a new juvenile detention facility was being built in her community of Stone Mountain, Georgia, despite there not being enough money for a youth recreation centre. She reflects on losing a friend in middle school to gun violence, and how everyone she knew growing up had been impacted by a similar event. She talks about the pride she felt seeing her first anti-violence billboard go up in Atlanta, and the satisfaction of witnessing the campaign spread across the entire city and knowing that gun violence had declined as an effect. There’s optimism and positivity in her voice. Only as she recalls being told to “wait her turn” when running for elected office in Georgia—making her one of the youngest people in the state to do so—is a hint of frustration detectable.
Mary’s story is just getting started—but you can’t really know her, where she’s come from or what gives her such incredible drive, until you know her full name.
“Mary Patricia Crystal Anne Hector, four names, one for each of my aunts,” she says proudly. “I’ve watched my mom and my aunts give their lives to young people and our community and I carry them with me in my names.”
That inspiration has kept her going despite the many hurdles she’s come up against.
Take that first sit in she organized. There were 50 young black people sleeping outside, but no media showed up to cover their protest. As Mary shares, the circumstances made it easy to get demoralized, and lots of her friends did.
“It proved to my friends that no one cares, but I didn’t get discouraged,” she says before pointing to a huge influence in her life. “I’ve always had a supportive mom. She taught me at an early age, if you see something, do something, because you can, because you have a voice.”
Mary’s mom also taught her that it may not always be easy. And often, it hasn’t been. Like when she lost her friend Tyfeek or when she repeatedly witnessed young kids forced to take on adult responsibilities because their parents were killed or sent to prison. And then there’s all the instances when she watched as friends fell into the same old traps: turning to violence or becoming pregnant.
Rather than simply accept this as the way things were, Mary used each of these moments as a source of motivation—a reason to take action. “Historically young people have been at the root of change,” she says passionately. “Whether that’s in South Africa or at lunch counters in the south, they were told no but they continued, they pressed on, they supported each other and they made a difference.”
Working towards fulfilling her childhood dream—becoming president of the United States of America–Mary has become a seasoned activist. For this, she thanks her mother and aunts.
“I’ve always been taught that giving and helping is something we’re supposed to do. It’s the rent we pay to live on this earth.”
Watch Mary’s full story.