When 17-year-old Uma Fox was in middle school, she completed a research project on modern school segregation. Motivated by what she learned, she decided to get involved in student government and local school diversification advocacy. “While participating in student government, I observed a stark lack of support systems for LGBTQ+ youth to participate in civic life,” she recalled. “This, and the legal, cultural, and social discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in my state, inspired me to found a nonprofit dedicated to organizing LGBTQ+ student advocacy.”
“As an LGBTQ+, mixed-race, South-Asian American, my perspectives are an amalgamation of the histories and experiences of many people."
Uma’s identities and the communities of which she is a part inform her understanding of the world. As a result, she always strives to represent her identity in her activism. “As an LGBTQ+, mixed-race, South-Asian American, my perspectives are an amalgamation of the histories and experiences of many people,” she said. “My mixed-race identity made me realize from a young age the complexity of how perspective shapes people’s understanding of fairness and the world around them; this often led me to serve as a bridge between cultures and contexts.”
Uma is the founder of Youtheoria, an organization that hosts student-led online workshops & discussions with young people from all over the world, and MOCO Pride nonprofit dedicated to organizing LGBTQ+ student advocacy. Through her human rights and education advocacy, she creates opportunities for youth to represent themselves in the spaces where decisions are made about their lives and ensures all students are respected, accepted, and empowered globally.
As an exceptional Gen Z’er making an impact, Uma was honored for her work in Education through The ConversationaLIST. “Too often, I’ve heard from my peers that they feel too young or under qualified to participate in civic action,” she said. “However, the profound impact of political decisions on the lives of students means our voices are necessary, important contributions. I care deeply about creating a world where we recognize and work to eradicate the structural role of oppression in our civic life. To do so, we must include all voices--especially those of students.”
“The impact of civic decisions on your existence is qualification enough for your voice to matter.”
Uma wants those who are seeking to find their voice to know that they deserve to be heard. While preparing to lead testimony and meetings with state legislators at the Maryland Legislative Assembly, Uma walked into the room knowing she deserved to be there as a constituent, a student impacted by policymakers’ decisions, and a human being with a message to benefit her community. “The impact of civic decisions on your existence is qualification enough for your voice to matter,” she said.
Currently, Uma is working on focusing on expanding her advocacy with Youtheoria so that she and her team can empower students to educate each other and collaborate on social justice initiatives. She’s also preparing to attend university to study global affairs focusing on race, gender, and decolonization. “My goal is to ultimately become a human rights lawyer or researcher and continue my passion for justice and equality through law and scholarship,” she said.
Uma centers her activism on amplifying Gen Z voices by unifying and establishing common ground for meaningful change through conversation. She admires The Conversationalist’s ability to bring youth together under a common goal of promoting nuanced dialogue and breaking open echo chambers.
"In a unified world, we would encourage both listening and the empowerment of all people to speak their view of the systems they live under.”
Uma believes that dialogue and decision-making spaces should include all of the impacted voices in a unified world. This occurs through giving marginalized perspectives equal respect and representation. “In a unified world, we would encourage both listening and the empowerment of all people to speak their view of the systems they live under,” she said. “It would be a world of accessible engagement and of diverse mediums for creating change.”
She believes Gen Z’s access to technology offers a valuable opportunity to promote global unification. “Modern media makes it accessible and necessary for us to listen to a variety of voices,” she said. “We can also use these communication mediums to publish our views and speak our minds. Unification will come from our sharing, our listening, and our determination to represent our voices globally.”
Uma breaks open her echo chambers by creating spaces for young people to discuss issues across international borders. “As an American and the byproduct of the US and euro-centric education system, it can be easy to center dialogue in my country’s perspective,” she said. “Consequently, I strive to participate in and create opportunities for discussion with students from a variety of countries and experiences.”
In navigating difficult conversations, Uma tries to establish areas of agreement to create a sense of commonality and encourage a productive, engaging discussion. She also tries to ask people about the source of their beliefs and how their stance is connected to them as an individual. “Discussing controversial topics can get highly personal,” she said. “This strategy acknowledges this and creates a shared context. The personalization of the conversation morphs from being something daunting to being inclusive and beneficial.”
We’re rooting for Uma Fox and all she does to empower youth to speak up against injustice. Keep up with her on Instagram to learn more about her impactful work.