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In 2015, when Niya Kenny was only 18 years old, she was arrested in her high school classroom in Columbia, South Carolina. Niya was charged with Disturbing Schools and taken to jail after standing up for a classmate who had been assaulted by their school resource officer for not giving up an electronic device. This experience is what sparked her interest in activism and organizing.

Niya was invited to join the force that works to dismantle structural inequality under Kimberlé Crenshaw at The African American Policy Forum in New York City, and has been an intern there for the past year. AAPF, based at Columbia Law School, focuses their work on women and girls of color who have experienced violence from the police. Niya’s responsibilities have included everything from research projects to gala event planning, conference programming, merchandise design and sales, and public speaking on behalf of the organization.

While she supports the important work of AAPF, Niya’s personal passion is to work with the younger generation who are the future. Niya has been working with kids since she was a freshman in high school. She was a Service Leader with the Richland School District 2 Family Intervention Services, where she served as a mentor and camp counselor to students whose ages ranged from 7 to 12 years old. More recently, she has volunteered and participated in programming at the Sadie Nash Leadership Project in NYC and EveryBlackGirl in South Carolina.

Since she started her work as a youth activist, Niya has been invited to speak her truth at universities, large events across the US, and even Google in NYC. She was interviewed by Anna Deavere Smith and honored to be portrayed in her recent play Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education. The University of Massachusetts Amherst now offers a scholarship in her honor, the Niya Kenny Student of Courage Scholarship.

For over a year, Niya has been the lead plaintiff in an ACLU lawsuit called Kenny v. Wilson, which is working to declare the Disturbing Schools law unconstitutional. She’s proud to represent this case to prevent other students from being criminalized in school.

Invite Niya to speak by e-mailing NiyaKennySpeaks@gmail.com