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Kids Who Shook the World

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Four Centuries: Four Kids Who Changed the World

Think you have to be 18 to change the world? Think again. These young people did not hesitate to change the world long before their 18th birthdays. You can do it too!

 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (18th century)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered the greatest musical genius in the western world. He began composing minuets at the age of five and symphonies at the age of nine. His music has been loved from the 18th Century to the 21st Century.

When he was six, he began paying concerts at major cities and courts. He was joined by his sister Maria. Their performances were among the greatest that music lovers had ever seen. At the age of 8, Mozart published four sonatas for claviers with an accompanying violin. He wrote the operas "Bastien und Bastienne" at the age of 12, "La Finta Semplice" at the age of 13 , "Ascanio" at the age of 15 and "Lucio Silla" at the age of 16. At sixteen, he became concertmaster to Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo of Salzburg. As concertmaster, Mozart composed a large number of sacred and secular works.

Mozart's music has additional benefits. It calms babies in nurseries. Studies show that more learning takes place in classrooms where Mozart's is played in the background. The learning in these studies is generally unrelated to the subject of music. Mathematics is one of the subjects where learning is enhanced by listening to Mozart. Was this an accident, or did a young Mozart sense the effects certain types of music would have on others, and then compose accordingly?

Mozart was more than a composer and musician. He was a leftist, a revolutionary. Some have written that the French Revolution started where Mozart's works left off. His operas and other works show he sided with the common man against the aristocracy. It is believed that Mozart's burial in an unmarked grave was a result of an attempted suppression of his ideas.

Louis Braille (19th century)
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Millions of blind people are able to read and write as clearly as people with clear vision. This was not always the case and once it was thought that it would never be the case. Their plight wasn't ended by some middle aged sighted person who came up with a plan to help them read more easily. In 1824, their vehicle for reading was invented by a 15 year old kid named Louis Braille. Louis was three when he became blind in his first eye and soon lost the vision in his other eye. He wanted to maintain communication with the world. Putting fingers above raised letters often led to confusion and inaccuracy. Braille's system of six dots allowed easy recognition of letters with a simple touch of a fingertip and made writing much easier for blind people. Older individuals had tried various methods that were more complicated and less productive than that of the fifteen year old who changed life for millions of residents of Planet Earth. Today in virtually every language and location in the world, Braille's six-dot system is used by blind people.

Two years later, at seventeen, Braille adapted his method to music notation. Individuals who might never have become musicians or composers suddenly had the chance to live their dreams. Later he used his invention to make reading and writing mathematical notations easier for the blind. This allowed seasoned mathematicians and scientists to continue their life's work. It allowed new mathematicians or scientists to begin theirs. The worlds of music, science, mathematics and literature are fuller because of Braille's wisdom and courage to follow through with his vision.

Braille was never a world leader, but last year a legally blind man was elevated to Governor of New York. But for the work of Braille, would Donald Patterson be New York's Governor or would he be in a job where written communication was not relevant? While Donald Patterson possibly has his leadership position as the result of Braille, fifteen year olds cannot vote in New York state. A fifteen year old can give sight to the blind, but older persons refuse to credit fifteen year olds with the ability to mark a ballot.


Claudette Colvin (20th Century)
Many people credit Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King with bringing about desegregation in the South. They were great leaders who carried on the fight. The inspiration for the fight was a 15 year old girl who changed the world. How many readers believe it was Rosa Parks who, on March 2, 1955, got on a bus, refused to give up her seat to a white man, was dragged off in handcuffs and placed in a cell? Those who think this was Rosa Parks have not studied history. The heroine was fifteen year old Claudette Colvin.
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Famous leaders of the NAACP decided that Claudette Colvin wasn't a good role model. It was felt that an older, middle class, lighter-skinned African American would command more respect than a poor, dark-skinned teenager. Claudette had a teacher who was willing to follow in Claudette's footsteps and undergo the same degradtion encountered by Claudette in order to satisfy the NAACP requirment for a role model. The teacher entered the bus at the same location Caludette had entered it nine months earlier. The teacher repeated exactly what Claudette had done and was arrested where Claudette was arrested. The teacher was Rosa Parks. Rosa Parks knew what would happen as it had already happened to her student Claudette. She had the courage to go through a copy-cat performance for the purpose of helping end segregation in America.

The young girl, who changed the world and inspired Rosa Parks to do as she had done, is unmentioned in most history books. Most Americans have no idea who Claudette Colvin is. Claudette was part of "Browder v Gayle," the lawsuit that ended segregation. It was her courage that was responsible for ending segreation..

The failure to put Claudette into the history books falls into three additional kinds of bigotry. There was the obvious bigotry of ageism. Ageism is the reason most people don't realize that Braile was only 15 when he invented reading for the blind. It is the reason that, while Claudette did change the world at fifteen, she couldn't vote for change at that same age.

The second kind of bigotry involved a subclassification of racism, relating to the shade of the skin tone. It was easier for a light-skinned Barack Obama to become President than for a dark-skinned Jesse Jackson. Jackson supported more fundamental positions of the Democratic Party than Obama, but the Democratic power structure was unwilling to nominate the darker-skinned African American. It was easier for a lighter-skinned Rosa Parks than for a darker skinned Claudette Colvin to be allowed to be a role model.

The third discrimination involved Claudette's economic status. Claudette was poor. Rosa was part of the middle class. Claudette has been quoted as saying, ""Middle-class blacks looked down on King Hill. We had unpaved streets and outside toilets." Nonetheless, Rosa and Claudette were friends and the decision was made by others within the NAACP. Economic status is perhaps the most prevealent form of discrimination. It extends to credit for accomplishments, the ability to receive health care and the ability to obtain a fair trial.

Rosa Park's courage is unquestioned. Being arrested, handcuffed and placed in a cell must have been even more frightening to the fifteen year old girl who preceded her. Claudette Claudette was not only young; she was poor and dark-skinned. She had more than one prejudice working against her at the time of her arrest. This girl sparked a social revolution that lacked her name or even knowledge of her existence. Last year, America elected a black President. Would this have happened without the courage of Claudette Colvin?

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JM is a published writer, historian and commentator.

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Kids Who Shook the World