Celebrating amazing Chicago teens

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18under18-Square-WebThe Mash

For the second year in a row, we’re honored to award 18 amazing teens who are accomplishing extraordinary things in their communities. Earlier this year, we asked you to help us find these students, and the results were inspiring. We read dozens of stories about young people who are really making a difference in Chicago. That’s what 18 under 18 is all about—shining a spotlight on those who go the extra mile and don’t expect anything in return.

The 18 teens you’ll meet in this section are true heroes with stories worth telling. We hope you’ll feel as inspired as we did the first time we heard about their accomplishments. From arts to sports and civics to media, here are your 18 under 18, Chicago!


Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune sports columnist and reporter; Nikia Jefferson, ChiTown Fashionista; Danni Allen, “Biggest Loser” Season 14 winner; Montel Williams, co-founder and president of Slate House Productions; Ernest Wilkins, digital/communications specialist for Red Bull Sound Select; Asia Mitchell, director of undergraduate admissions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Kristin Samuelson, RedEye managing editor; Jackie Rosa, United Way community engagement manager; Chris Rudd, Mikva Challenge juvenile justice council director


These students are making their mark at a young age through photojournalism, broadcast, online reporting and social media.

Hannah-WebHannah McEwen
Junior, Lincoln Park

›› A leading teen in Free Spirit Media (FSM), she has produced pieces on the American dream for LGBT youth and the negative effects of whitewashing in the media.

›› Offers both technical and emotional support to her fellow FSM

›› Goes the extra mile for a story, whether it’s coming in early to finish editing or traveling long distances to get the shot she needs.

Judge’s feedback: “She is someone we need to nurture and promote in this industry.” —Kristin Samuelson, RedEye managing editor


EMma-webEmma Cullnan
Junior, Walter Payton

›› A reporter for GlobalGirl Media, where she researches, writes, interviews subjects and shoots videos on issues important to women and girls.

›› Contributed a piece on dating violence among teens to The Mash this year.

›› Awarded a Scholastic Art and Writing Silver Key from the Chicago Area Writing Project for an original poem titled “Dan Ryan.”

Judge’s feedback: “My initial response to reading Emma’s application was, ‘Wow.’ ” —Kristin Samuelson, RedEye managing editor


These students are passionate about their craft and helping others grow artistically.

Jess-webJess Rodriguez
Junior, Benito Juarez

›› Stepped outside her comfort zone to participate in a graffiti battle for ElevArte’s We Are Hip Hop Festival, painting the word “Soul” on an 8-foot canvas.

›› Works with her ElevArte mentor to challenge herself and push her art to new places and mediums.

›› Mastered knitting and crochet in ElevArte’s Sew Stitchy program.

Judge’s feedback: “Jess accomplished something that scares many artists much older than her—she created a piece of artwork in front of an audience.” —Asia Mitchell, director of undergraduate admissions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago


camarri-webCamarri Lane
Senior, Kenwood

›› Taught himself photography at age 16.

›› When he became discouraged, he took his camera on a trip to Jamaica to regain inspiration for his art.

›› Attended a Nike workshop in Chicago that taught street photography, which became his passion.

Judge’s feedback: “His photos make the familiar, unfamiliar: You know the building, the neighborhood, but you have missed what he has captured.” —Asia Mitchell, director of undergraduate admissions at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago


These students live and breathe music while embracing Chicago’s unique musical landscape.

Kopano-webKopano Muhammad
Sophomore, Walter Payton

›› Has been playing violin for 12 years and taking vocal lessons for two. She’s also a self-taught piano player and writes her own songs.

›› Recently accepted into the Merit School of Music Tuition-free Conservatory for jazz vocals.

›› Sings at Salaam Restaurant & Bakery on Saturday nights.

Judge’s feedback:
“Wouldn’t be surprised if she ended up joining a bigger jazz ensemble, given the presented work here.” —Ernest Wilkins, digital/communications specialist for Red Bull Sound Select


Shannah-webShannah Marshall
Junior, Chicago H.S. for Agricultural Sciences

›› Plays in the national Future Farmers of America (FFA) band.

›› A leader in her school’s music department.

›› A member of the Chicago Children’s Choir.

Judge’s feedback:
“There seems to be a lot to come from her.” —Ernest Wilkins, digital/communications specialist for Red Bull Sound Select



These students set the trends at their schools and in their neighborhoods. They’re not afraid to do something different or stand out from the crowd.

James-WebJames Wendt
Senior, Naperville North

›› Uses journalism to challenge social norms by writing about feminism, LGBTQ rights and race relations.

›› Acts as a pioneer for using inclusive language with his friends, family and peers.

›› Embodies a trailblazer mentality while leading by example and inspiring others to do the same.

Judge’s feedback: “James is a trendsetter based on how he manages to go against the grain in terms of diversity and inclusion.” —Nikia Jefferson, ChiTown Fashionista


Roshan-WebRoshaan Siddiqui
Freshman, Chicago Math and Science Academy

›› Led CMSA’s robotics team, RoboTitans, to the First Tech Challenge (FTC) world championship, where he was the team’s programmer.

›› Featured on CBS Chicago’s “Someone You Should Know” segment for his contributions to the team.

›› Participated in a community outreach program to spread the word about FTC and its benefits to fellow students.

Judge’s feedback: “In a world that is driven more and more by technology, Roshaan is already positioning himself to become a leader in the field.” —Nikia Jefferson, ChiTown Fashionista


They may be young, but we know that doesn’t hold these teens back from digging into the political world.

Kristine-webKristine Hernandez
Sophomore, Alcott

›› Trained over 175 high school students citywide at a teen health summit.

›› Developed a social media campaign to help reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections in Chicago.

›› Featured in the Chicago Tribune for her speech on police brutality as part of Mikva Challenge’s Project Soapbox competition.

Judge’s feedback: “Her impact is already affecting the future with her current work.” —Jackie Rosa, United Way community engagement manager


Julia-webJulia Huebner
Junior, Walter Payton

›› First realized her passion for politics in seventh grade when she ran for student government.

›› Active in her school’s Model United Nations since freshman year, when she was the only ninth-grader chosen to attend the international conference.

›› Served as a summer intern for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s campaign.

Judge’s feedback: “Her lasting impact is that she is clearly passionate!” —Jackie Rosa, United Way community engagement manager

Comeback story

Everyone has a story, but these students have overcome a tough situation and turned things around in a positive way.

Sofia-webSofia Mendieta
Sophomore, Latin

›› Moved to Chicago from Mexico City with her parents in 2008, the same year the country’s economy crashed.

›› Struggled with the language barrier and making new friends.

›› Worked hard to earn a spot at Latin and was accepted to study in France for her junior year.

Judge’s feedback: “She is determined to continue and make an impact on the world.” —Danni Allen, “Biggest Loser” Season 14 winner


Lorenzo-webLorenzo Elion
Junior, Simeon

›› Joined Chicago White Sox Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, which motivates youth through baseball.

›› Went on to join the White Sox Amateur City Elite (ACE) team, which gives rising talent from the inner city a chance to play against highly
competitive travel teams.

›› Offered athletic scholarships that will allow him to attend college at no cost.

Judge’s feedback: “He had every excuse to let his circumstances define him, but he rose above it.” —Danni Allen, “Biggest Loser” Season 14 winner


These students refuse to sit around when they see something unfair happening, whether they’re fighting for the
environment, animals, social equality or educational funding.

Lexis-WebLexis Brown
Freshman, Tilden

›› Participates in Student Leadership Council, a group that helps share students’ opinions with school administrators.

›› Helped create policy recommendations that resulted in “dress-down Fridays,” which allowed Tilden students to ditch their uniforms once a week.

›› Involved in community issues, including citywide election events, where she seeks out new opportunities to grow.

Judge’s feedback: “I can already see that Lexis’ work has made an impact on the student body at her high school, and she is only a freshman.” —Chris Rudd, Mikva Challenge juvenile justice council director

Sanya-WebSanya Khatri
Junior, Lane Tech

›› Founded Tech BuildOn, a school-wide project that hopes to build a school and provide students with school supplies in India.

›› Felt inspired to bring the organization to Lane Tech after she visited India for her cousin’s funeral and was struck by the country’s poverty.

›› Helped raise over $2,000 in two months, with the goal of raising $30,000 by the end of next school year.

Judge’s feedback: “Sanya is mixing service work with youth activism, which is really inspiring.” —Chris Rudd, Mikva Challenge juvenile justice council director


These students will probably run corporate America one day. They’re natural leaders who have fresh new ideas.

Erica-Mote-WebErica Mote
Junior, Glenbard South

›› Created Sweet Charity Fudge when she was 11 years old to give back to the community.

›› 100 percent of her profits are given to charitable organizations, and in six years, she has donated $12,000 made from over 3,500 bars of fudge.

›› For the past two years, her profits have gone to Feed My Starving Children.

Judge’s feedback: “It really warms my heart to know that she’s passionate about making a difference in someone else’s life.” —Montel Williams, co-founder and president of Slate House Productions

Genevieve-webGenevieve Liu
Sophomore, University of Chicago Lab

›› Founded SLAP’D (Surviving Life After a Parent Dies) after her father drowned trying to save two boys in Lake Michigan.

›› Launched SLAP’D in 2014 as an online forum to connect teens surviving the loss of a parent.

›› SLAP’D is a member of the National Alliance for Grieving Children and has 12,000 members and 140,000 unique visits.

Judge’s feedback: “I strongly feel that she will be—and probably already is—a hero in many people’s eyes. She’s a hero in mine.” —Montel Williams, co-founder and president of Slate House Productions


On and off the field, these students stand out by showing a tremendous amount of sportsmanship and teamwork.

Josh-webJosh Nowak
Junior, Stagg

›› Baseball player with Illinois Sparks, an elite travel team.

›› Participates in the team’s event for men, women and children with special needs.

›› Known for his incredible work ethic, heartfelt efforts on the field and sportsmanship.

Judge’s feedback: “Hearing Josh described as ‘the perfect teammate’ and playing with ‘so much heart’ is powerful.” —Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune sports columnist and reporter


EricaH-webErica Hackett
Senior, York

›› Participated in volleyball, softball, cross country and track.

›› After being cut from the volleyball team, she joined cross country and found her natural talent as a runner.

›› Uses leadership and teamwork skills on and off the field. She’s a freshman mentor, student ambassador, founder of her school’s fitness club and a top student in her class.

Judge’s feedback: “I love that Erica didn’t sulk after getting cut by the volleyball team. She joined cross country and excelled.” —Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune sports columnist and reporter

All our winners will be honored in an awards ceremony Saturday, June 6 at Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row Lit Fest.


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About The Mash

The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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