A role model, bias buster and world-changer.
By Craig and Marc Kielburger
We want to tell you about Annie Bartlett. We’ll introduce our friend as she liked to do so herself, as a “visual artist, folk dancer, jujutsu fighter and feminist.”
She was also a social activist dedicated to busting stereotypes.
“We are more than our gender, skin color, class, sexuality, or age,” she would remind anyone and everyone. “We are unlimited potential and cannot be defined by one label.”
That Annie lived with cystic fibrosis is almost beside the point, except that it is how she came to share her story with millions of Canadians.
She could have asked the Make-a-Wish Foundation for anything—a vacation in Hawaii, a day with a celebrity—things any typical teenager would want. A chance to share her story on the WE Day stage was everything to Annie. Craig surprised her with the news at her hospital bedside, where she spoke about raising awareness for her genetic disease and defying the victim label that often comes with critical illness.
“If you get given a great gift, what’s the point if you can’t help other people,” she’d often say.
Annie paired her gift for creative expression with a passion to help others, balancing fundraisers and speaking requests with pill regimens, medical treatments and lung physiotherapy. “I feel this new sense of power over an illness that has been wreaking havoc on my body for 19 years,” she explained. The “sick kid” urged us to see beyond stereotypes.
Annie’s parents told us that helping others helped Annie. When a young person (or anyone) goes through something difficult, our immediate response is to try to help them. Sometimes they just want to help others. To find purpose. To be in control. Research on the science of doing good has proven that altruism can nurture hope and resilience in the face of adversity.
“I am never going to say anything positive about CF,” Annie would say. “But now I know that I can create goodness from something truly devastating.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met Annie at WE Day in Ottawa in 2016. We asked him to share some words about the young activist.
“As a strong and vibrant young leader, Annie used her voice to help and inspire Canadians across the country,” Trudeau said. “Annie reminded us that those living with illness are so much more than their diagnosis, and her legacy will live on in her message of hope and positivity.”
Annie Bartlett was 20 when she died on August 8. Friends and family wore party clothes to a celebration of her life. Just a few months before, they’d toasted her marriage to long-time love, Jack Bull.
“Every moment I’m smiling, I’m actually doing the impossible,” she said earlier this spring. “I feel so blessed for my life.”
Granted one wish, Annie chose to share her story of resilience. In daring us to be bolder, she leaves the world a kinder place.