Tariah Hyland has been given the 2023 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award.

Wilmington’s Tariah Hyland wins John Lewis youth award for activism

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Education

Tariah Hyland has been given the 2023 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award.

Tariah Hyland has been given the 2023 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award.

A 20-year-old college student from Wilmington who pushed for Black history to be included in the Delaware school curriculum has received an award named for a Civil Rights leader. 

Tariah Hyland, a junior at Howard University in Washington, D.C., was given the 2023 John Lewis Youth Leadership Award by Delaware Secretary of State Jeff Bullock. 

The award honors the accomplishments of Congressman John Lewis, specifically those rooted in activism and courage during the Civil Rights Movement and his long tenure of public service.

Hyland’s inspiration to give back to the community stems from her belief that students and young people need to have a voice.

“I knew the work was being done, but I didn’t really see it being done at the pace or in the way that I felt that it needed to be done,” she said. “I didn’t feel like students were being mobilized enough or being put at the forefront enough especially within the education space, when a lot of decisions are being made on behalf of students, but you don’t see any students at the decision-making table.”

That frustrated her, and she chose to put action behind those feelings.

“Not only was I able to begin to do this work, but I was able to bring other students to the source with me because I knew that my voice wasn’t enough,” she said. “It wasn’t enough to be the only voice in a lot of the conversations that were happening.”

Hyland said she was shocked to win the award – mainly because the winner was supposed to be announced in December, but she was notified in January.

When she received the email of her recognition, she was on the phone with her cousin and immediately broke down in tears.

“I was very surprised, thinking and assuming they already notified the winner, and so I was very shocked,” she said.

As any young adult experiences, Hyland said she was at a point where she was talking to her cousin about being frustrated with the current place in life she was at, looking for clarity and purpose.

“So I think the timing was just so divine,” she said. 

Hyland won the award due to her role in legislative change, specifically House Bill 198, which required the inclusion of Black history and culture in Delaware’s K-12 school curriculum. 

Collaborating with legislators and other young students during her time at St. Georges Technical High School, Hyland’s efforts helped push the state to take steps towards addressing historical inaccuracies and promoting diversity in education. 

Sponsored by Rep. Sherry Dorsey Walker, D-Wilmington, HB198 was signed into law by Governor John Carney in 2021.

The John Lewis Youth Leadership Award was established in February 2021 by the National Association of Secretaries of State, as a way for association members to recognize a gifted, civic-minded young person in their state each year. The recipient should demonstrate leadership abilities, have a passion for social justice, and be motivated to improve the quality of life in their community, much like the namesake of the award.

Some of John Lewis’s accomplishments include:

  • In 1961, at the age of 21, Lewis was one of the original thirteen Freedom Riders. 
  • In 1963, Lewis was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington and also one of the “Big Six” leaders that organized the march. 
  • In 1965, Lewis helped lead the Selma to Montgomery marches. The first march took place on March 7, 1965 at the Edmund Pettus Bridge where unarmed marchers were attacked by state troopers. The event later became known as “Bloody Sunday” and was a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. 
  • His activism at an early age continued throughout his life and he served as a U.S. Congressman for 33 years for Georgia until he passed away in 2020.

Hyland currently lives in D.C., and is appreciative of experiencing life in a different environment, but definitely has some plans of returning home to Delaware.

“I know at some point in my life, I’ll be back in Delaware, and I don’t know if it will be within the first few years after graduation, but I’m absolutely coming back to Delaware,” she said.

She joked that that’s something a previous version of herself would never say, as she has the popular experience of bolting out of her home-state as fast as she could to attend college.

“Delaware is home…but the more that I continue to live in another space, which I’m grateful for because I think it’s a lot of value being in an environment, I just began to really value Delaware so much,” she said. “I just know that I want to build such profound experiences and bring them back to Delaware.”

She doesn’t have a particular job in mind post-college, but definitely wants to go the public service route and maybe run for office down the line.

“Tariah’s commitment to bettering her community and empowering other young leaders along the way exemplifies the late Congressman’s values and mission,” Bullock said. “Young folks are rising to the challenge to make a difference every day.”

Members of the national association recognize a gifted, civic-minded young person in their state each year, and the recipient demonstrates leadership abilities, has a passion for social justice and is motivated to improve the quality of life in their community.

Recipients of the award must be 25-years-old or younger.

This year, Hyland was selected from 21 other Delaware nominees.

Monday’s ceremony was held in Dover at the Delaware Public Archives

At Middletown’s St. Georges Technical High School, part of the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District, Hyland co-founded the Delaware Black Student Coalition, which aimed to empower underrepresented voices. 

Despite initial resistance from her school to start a Black student club, Hyland’s persistence led her to co-create a platform for Black students across Delaware to advocate for change, push back against systemic oppression, and push for a more equitable educational experience.

Hyland is currently a mentor and teaching assistant for TeenSHARP and co-facilitator of the Proximity Project, where she teaches advocacy skills to young students, building a foundation for future leaders to authentically address civil rights issues.

“Tariah has been making ‘good trouble’ since I first met her in high school,” said Atnre Alleyne, founder of the Proximity Project, which is an eight-week experience for leaders who want to examine and improve how they interact with and serve communities of color.

Alleyne said that Hyland is the perfect young leader to receive the award and I’m immensely proud of her.

While majoring in political science with a minor in legal communications, Hyland is also the vice president of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences, the institution’s largest college. 

She’s the president of the Howard University Chapter of Black Girls Vote, an organization focusing on empowering Black women to participate in the democratic process. 

Her previous experience also includes internships with Results for America, the office of U.S. Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester and the Emerson Collective

She’s also been recognized as an AT&T Rising Future Maker and a Target Scholar.

Early in Hyland’s advocacy life, she realized so many students felt like they weren’t meant to be a part of the conversation.

“In the beginning, a lot of the work that I was doing was focused on really just empowering my peers, telling them their story and their voice matters,” she said. 

While John Lewis is certainly on the proverbial Mount Rushmore of civil rights activists, and she draws inspiration from him, Hyland said a prominent past figure she looks up to is Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to be elected to the United States Congress, serving for New York for seven terms.

Present activists that she is inspired by include Ashley Christopher, the founder and chief executive officer of the HBCU Week Foundation; Lisa Blunt Rochester, first Black woman and first woman ever to represent Delaware, serving since 2017; and Sherry Dorsey Walker, a state representative who has always advocated to engage students in policy-making. 

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