YSU Student Receives John Lewis Youth Leadership Award

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A Youngstown State University student and longtime member of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past was honored for her meaningful commitment to address civil rights issues.

Miah Pierce received the National Association of Secretaries of State John Lewis Youth Leadership Award for the state of Ohio in Columbus on Tuesday. 

The John Lewis Youth Leadership Award was created in February 2021 to recognize people age 25 or younger who demonstrate leadership abilities and passion for social justice and positive community change. 

Lewis was involved in several historic achievements during the civil rights movement before serving as a U.S. congressman for 33 years. He died in 2020.

Penny Wells, executive director of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past, nominated Pierce for the award. 

“I nominated her because she has been very active in all of the things that we have done,” she said. 

Pierce has been involved in various activities, including voter registration; Ohio Nonviolence Week; helping to research, write and present Mahoning Valley Sojourn’s “Anti-racism Workshop: Be a Difference Maker”; and visiting elementary schools to speak to students about topics such as self-esteem and anti-bullying. 

Wells said Pierce took the initiative to reach out to students and create programs. 

“Anything that we do, she is always willing to do,” Wells said. “She was part of the group that presented a spoken word that mentioned the number of people who were murdered in Youngstown. She talked not about their murder, but talked about who those people were and why they should be remembered.”

Pierce was also involved in the planning of a bench in Glenwood Community Park in memory of those whose lives were taken through violence. The bench was dedicated earlier this summer and is the same bench in which Pierce is sitting on in her submission video for the award, Wells said. 

Wells said Pierce has been a part of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past since 2019 and continues to be heavily involved.

“She was part of a group of four that I took to Mississippi in June for a Generation Z leadership summit,” Wells said. “This was put on by the Medgar Evers organization – also part of the 60th anniversary [of his death].”

After spending a week in Mississippi at the summit, Wells said Pierce and the three others on the trip came back with some action plans. 

“She has been very, very active,” Wells said. 

“I want little Black girls and little Black boys to know that they can do whatever they want to do,” Pierce said in her submission video. “I want to be someone they can look up to, especially in the school system. I want them to know that they can achieve any goal that they put their mind to as long as they have drive and they stay disciplined and dedicated.”

In the video, Piece said she wants to follow the example of Lewis, who had many courageous achievements during the civil rights movement, imagining what change could happen in Youngstown if she does so. She said she will use her vote and her voice for “good trouble.”

“The most important part to me is fighting for social justice and never being a silent witness,” Pierce said.

Pictured at top: Miah Pierce, in a screenshot from her submission video. (YouTube | MVSojourn)

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.