Interview: Brittany McMillan talks 2 Billion Under 20

Today, St. Martin's Press released a groundbreaking new book: 2 Billion Under 20. Co-authored by NYU students Stacey Ferreira and Jared Kleinert, the book features 75 stories from ambitious young people under the age of twenty who have found success, and provides advice on how young people can break down age barriers in order to facilitate change.

Featured in the book are a number of well-known millennials from all across the world, including Olympians, entrepreneurs, singers, actors, scientists, nonprofit founders, and computer scientists. In addition, Spirit Day founder Brittany McMillan contributed a piece where she speaks about bullying, depression, and becoming a role model for LGBT teens. We asked her a few questions about her involvement with the project and her plans for this year's Spirit Day.

How did you get involved with the folks working on 2 Billion Under 20?

I suppose I found out about 2 Billion Under 20 through Seventeen Magazine. In 2012, I was a top 5 finalist for their Pretty Amazing contest. It was a really great experience and I met some awesome people. The following year, I was reading up on the 2013 contestants when I came across Stacey Ferreira, the 2013 winner. In her magazine write-up, she talked about starting 2 Billion Under 20 with Jared and how they were coming out with a book to showcase the stories of amazing young people. I went online and looked at their website, submitted my story, and Jared got back to me not long after. Since then, I’ve been working with them and communicating on our Facebook group with all of the other contributors.

When you first created Spirit Day, did you ever feel discouraged from making a change because of your age? If so, how did you overcome that?

I don’t think I’ve ever felt discouraged because of my age. My biggest inspiration growing up was Craig Kielburger who started Free the Children (FtC) when he was only 12 years old. I did a lot of fundraising for FtC, and I attended things like We Day and the Me to We Summit. I’ve heard Craig’s story (in person) and read it so many times; I think I’ve always known that age isn’t really a big factor in what you can do.

On October 15th, GLAAD will celebrate its sixth annual Spirit Day. What goals do you have for this upcoming Spirit Day and the ones following?

It’s hard to believe that this will be the sixth Spirit Day! My goal for this year and the Spirit Days to come is always just to spread more awareness on as big a scale as possible. So far, Spirit Day has mostly been a North American thing, but I’d like to make it worldwide. Homophobic bullying and bullying in general isn’t something that takes place just in North America, but something that affects people all over the world.

Aside from wearing purple on Spirt Day, what can other young LGBT advocates under 20 do to make a change in their schools and communities?

I would say the most important thing is never to be afraid to stand up to your peers and fight for what you believe in. Spirit Day only happens one day a year, but bullying can happen at any time. It’s not enough to have an attitude of standing up just one day out of the year – it needs to happen every day for something to shift, to change. Even if it’s not Spirit Day, I would encourage all people to take a stand. If you hear a homophobic comment as you’re walking down the hallway or one of your friends uses a homophobic slur, don’t just sit back and let it happen. Remind your peers that their behavior is not acceptable and that it is hurtful. It’s never easy telling your friends (or even strangers) that something they just said isn’t right, but it’s the proper thing to do. I think your friends are more likely to listen if it’s coming from someone they trust too. For the most part, our friends and our classmates don’t mean to hurt us, but they can’t change their behavior if they don’t know that they’re doing something wrong.

If you had one piece of advice for young people under 20 who want to make a change in the world, what would it be?

As corny as it sounds, my advice is to believe in yourself and I mean that in two different ways. First, I mean it in a "the-mind-is-a-powerful-tool" kind of way. If you truly believe you can make a difference, if you choose to believe positively, people around you will notice. Your confidence will make others confident and when you’re trying to change the way the world works, you need all the support you can get....

The second way you can believe in yourself is to be the person you really are – embrace yourself. Nobody is perfect and we all have weird hobbies and quirks. Loving yourself and being proud of yourself is another way of thinking positively and building up confidence. Also, people like things that are different. I know it’s strange to imagine that someone might actually respect you for your Star Wars obsession or your klutziness, but it’s true! If you’re proud to be who you are, if you’re proud to like the things you like and believe in the things you believe, you will stand out. People will be proud to know you and they’ll follow you because you’re confident and you know what you’re doing (even if you don’t!).

Thanks to Brittany for taking the time to talk with us. Check out 2 Billion Under 20 for more info on the book and how you can make a change!