[Photo provided by James Giltner]
Name: Maiwen Amegadjie
Maiwen Amegadjie can barely recall a time in her life when she wasn't forced to struggle with the notion of racism and police brutality in America.
Amegadjie, who graduated from Hinsdale Central High School last month, was just 10 years old when 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain in Sanford, Fla.
"It was really kind of traumatizing," Amegadjie said. "You are realizing at a young age that people might not like you because of your skin color. You are so young and being exposed to a lot of hatred. It makes you mature a lot faster and be aware of the world around you. But you shouldn't have to be so aware. You should be able to be oblivious."
Amegadjie is anything but oblivious to the world around her.
Last year, she attended an event in Chicago to protest the Trump administration's family separation policy and putting immigrant children in cages. She went to a Black Lives Matter protest in the city weeks ago in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of a white police officer May 25 in Minneapolis.
On June 3, when a planned protest in Hinsdale organized by the Climate Coalition was shut down by police and business owners fearful of violence and looting, Amegadjie energized a rally of close to 100 people that marched through downtown Hinsdale and then lied down for nine minutes in front of the Hinsdale police station.
"I feel like, I've been living in Hinsdale for five years, I feel like a lot of people are sheltered and cloistered here," Amegadjie said. "They don't understand the struggles that I have had to cope with here. I'm tired of having to be politically correct, tired about being silent about issues that are important to me. If I don't do it now, when will I ever?"
Amegadjie and her family moved to Hinsdale from Deer Park, Ill., five years ago.
A year after moving to Hinsdale, her twin brother Kiran went to a football game and someone wrapped in the Confederate flag called him the N-word.
"And he was in the eighth grade. He was scared," Amegadjie said.
Their parents taught them at a young age what to do if a police officer pulls them over for a traffic stop.
"Ever since I was young I've had to have a military school level of discipline," Amegadjie said. "I have a lot of cousins and we tend to get loud when we're around each other. When we get outside we have to try not to be so loud, not be a gang of teenagers."
Maiwen, though, has always been the more outspoken of the two twins, the yin to Kiran's yang. She introduced a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of black students who enrolled at an all-white school in Arkansas in 1957, at an event at Hinsdale Central. She was in student council throughout high school.
She was sick and tired of lowering her voice about issues that are important to her, and let herself be heard.
"I don't want us to lose this momentum," said Amegadjie, who is going to the University of Illinois to study biochemistry while her brother is headed to Yale. "This isn't a trend. This isn't an internet fad. Maybe there won't be as many protests, but you can't let racist things slide. You have to be more self aware."