“5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series
At just 15 years old, Mary-Pat Hector attended the funeral of her best friend, who had lost her life to gun violence. In addition to the personal impact gun violence had on Mary-Pat’s life, she also saw a larger problem. Before her 16th birthday, Mary-Pat had been to more funerals than graduations. Living in a suburban middle-class neighborhood is viewed as being peaceful and safe, but gun violence was a very real and horrifying aspect of life to Hector that expands far outside of her community.
More than 33,000 people die every year in the United States as a result of gun violence; that’s roughly 90 lives lost every day. Mary-Pat wanted things to change and looked to her community for answers to this significant problem.
“Where are the Dr. Kings? Where are the Gloria Steinems? Where are these people we’ve seen and heard about (who) make a difference?” Mary-Pat wondered. Instead of waiting for that person to come along, she decided to speak out and step up, dedicating herself to the cause of preventing gun violence. “You can either sit around and wait for someone to save you, or you can be that change you want to see,” Mary-Pat says.
After School spoke with Mary-Pat Hector as part of the “5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker” Interview Series. The series is hosted by After School in partnership with nonprofit organization Peace First and includes teens all across the country who have made a difference in a wide variety of ways, from anti-bullying to raising awareness for the homeless. We spoke with Mary-Pat about her ad campaign Think Twice and her current quest to become the youngest female elected to office at the age of 19. Mary-Pat describes Think Twice as a “shock ad campaign that was created to encourage people to think twice before picking up a gun and using it on another person.”
Ready to act, Hector needed to find the right channel to get her message to the public. After viewing an anti-smoking advertisement from Truth.com, she realized the significant power shock advertising could have and saw it as an opportunity for reducing gun violence. This was just the first step of three that Mary-Pat had to take in creating an impactful campaign to reduce gun violence.
- “The first step was to figure out what I wanted to do regarding the issue that was impacting my community.”
- “The second step was doing research to see if shock ads really work and I found out shock ads really do work.”
- “The third step was trying to figure out how to go about creating a shock ad campaign.”
Once Hector recognized the problem and a way to get her message out, she got to work on executing her plan to create a shock advertising campaign. In her research, she came across billboards as a possible way to effectively get out her message. “Many billboards were near stoplights, near the expressway where you’d have to see them…you couldn’t ignore it; you couldn’t ignore this giant picture that really appalled you,” says Mary-Pat.
With a completed plan in place, it was time to bring it to life, but with any startup business, organization, or campaign, fundraising is often a challenge, and billboards aren’t free. “The hardest obstacle I had to overcome was receiving the actual funding for the campaign,” she says. “Every time I would go and ask people to support me and my endeavor to really decrease violence in my community, and all over the country, people thought it was a great idea, and it was cute, but they weren’t going to put the funds behind me,” reflects Mary-Pat. Staying persistent in her search, Hector found the support she sought from Peace First. “It wasn’t until Peace First that I was able to put up billboards in the city of Atlanta,“ Mary-Pat states. The billboards were seen by tens of thousands of people and rates of gun violence did decrease in the areas where the billboards were present.
Continuing her efforts to make a positive change in the world, Hector is now running for office as a City of Stonecrest Post 4 Candidate. If she wins, she will be the youngest candidate ever elected. Asking for her advice to other youth looking to get involved and address issues they’re passionate about, Mary-Pat says, “The first step would be take that leap of faith. Often times we have these ideas and want to do something but we never do it. You have to put yourself out there and just do it. The second thing would have to be, do your research. We need to do our own research and find out information and knowledge on the issues we have become so passionate about, issues that impact our community.”
Peace First turned Hector’s plan and mission into action, and is working to do the same for others. “I think the Peace First Challenge can help young people make a positive impact on the world by really encouraging them to actually do something while also showing them other young people actually making a difference despite them being young,” states Hector.
Other Quotes from Our Interview with Mary Patricia Hector:
- “People (often) associate your experience and your passion with your age, but that can’t be further from the truth.”
- “Often times we have these ideas and want to do something but we never do it. You have to put yourself out there and just do it.”
- “..Once people see your continued efforts, once they continue to see your passion, then they begin to take you serious as a person.”
- “We use the shock ad as a means to really humanize violence happening within our country because we’ve become so desensitized to different forms of gun violence in America today.”
- “Just because I’m young, doesn’t mean I lack the passion or the capability..”
- “If elected city councilwoman, I want to create those means of prevention, investing in underused and underfunded centers such as the recreation centers, the libraries. Turning them into innovation labs and after-school programs and incubators that can really I believe prevent methods of crime like gun violence impacting teenagers, especially people of color within our community.”
Read more from the 5 Minutes with a Teen Difference Maker Interview Series:
- Empathy, Diversity Training for Young People: This Teen’s Mission to Create a Better Future
- Battling Bullying with Empathy: How One Teenager is Bringing Positivity to Middle School Students
- Making NC More Supportive for LGBTQ Youth: How It’s Happening with QueerNC
Ready to make a change? Get started with Peace First!