Special Issues » The People Issue

In between school and work, Detroit’s Tayiona White is an all-around activist

The People Issue

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At 17, Tayiona White is busier than most adults — and she doesn't seem to mind.

A junior at Cass Technical High School, Tayiona heads from the classroom to the Potbelly Sandwich Shop every weekday for a four-hour shift before ending her long day with homework.

It's on the weekends when the 16-year-old directs her energies toward her passions — gun control and environmental justice, to name a few. She's the social media coordinator for Detroit Area Youth United Michigan (DAYUM), an activist organization run by high school students. On Sundays, DAYUM holds meetings and invites people to learn about activism and social issues.

"Whatever is important to us, we talk about it and try to help," she says.

DAYUM has coordinated events such as a student strike on count day, a Youth Summit on Guns and Violence, a water-testing research project, a demonstration calling for climate action, and The March for Our Lives, a student-led rally in support of stronger gun controls. They've protested water shutoffs, education inequality, and Project Green Light, an expanding surveillance system in Detroit.

"I want to be involved in change," Tayiona tells Metro Times. "I don't want to sit back and watch it happen."

Tayiona's generation is faced with the horrifying realities of climate change and mass shootings. While elected officials more than twice her age are ignoring the grave issues, Tayiona is among the generation that is confronting them head on.

"We have to fight for stricter gun control," Tayiona says. "It should be simple, but we have to fight for it."

Tayiona is also concerned about environmental contamination. In southwest Detroit, for example, dozens of factories are belching dangerous chemicals into the air.

For Tayiona, issues such as gun control and climate change are common sense. People's safety should be the priority.

She recognizes that changing the world likely begins with her generation.

"A lot of the stuff that is happening has been going on for too long," Tayiona says. "It's time for change. It's a new age and a new era."

When Tayiona graduates from high school, she wants to continue helping make the world a better place. Her plan is to become a pediatric nurse.

"I want to help kids," she says. "I feel like everything starts with your childhood. If I can do anything to help a child, I want to."

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