2019 RFK Urban Education student award winner: Marci Mazza-Fredley
When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, it was a turning point for Marci Mazza-Fredley, a soon-to-be 12th grader at City Charter High School. She began to see what she describes as the effects of a “ruling system that takes over minority groups and marginalized people.” “Some of these people were my own friends, these people were innocent bystanders I saw outside, these were people I saw through social media, and even people from different countries,” she explains of her desire to step up and do something. For Marci, that’s where the activism that earned her the 2019 student RFK Urban Education Award began.
The daughter of a mother who is a minister and works in mental health, and a father who is a police officer, Marci has been raised to believe in faith and understanding the true happenings in society. When she began to see various issues take center stage politically and in social discourse, including repeated attacks on women’s and immigrant rights, Marci says she dove into self-reflection. “When I saw what was happening, I just couldn’t stand back and say, ‘I’m going to let this happen’,” she says. “How can I allow myself to just watch people be hurt and have their rights taken away?”
Marci explains that she’s invested in a variety of different issues, including women’s rights and LGBTQIA rights, in addition to rallying with Black Lives Matter, fighting for immigrant rights and the rights of those who are undocumented, and ending gentrification and climate change.
“When I started activism is when I started my writing,” says Marci, who has pieces published in two anthologies. In some ways, writing jumpstarted her activism: After writing a poem for English class, she read the poem at a rally, and was introduced to Socialist Alternatives in Pittsburgh, an activism group of which she’s now a part. She also joined Girls Write Pittsburgh, and works with 1Hood, a collective of socially conscious artists and activists.
“Personally, I feel the only way for me to continue my activism is to continue my education in these issues,” she says, explaining that the research involved in writing allows her to better understand how individuals’ everyday lives are affected by these issues.
Through classes with Mark Barga (2017 winner of the Teacher RFK Urban Education Award, and Marci’s nominator), Marci says “my eyes were opened up.” Recently, his class was learning about American History through the lens of the musical Hamilton, and the creativity and conversations around real issues stood out to Marci, who says her school encourages young adults to invest in issues and speak freely. This includes issues that affect their Pittsburgh community, like mass incarceration, gentrification, and racial injustice.
Winning the RFK Award offered a chance for reflection on how far she’s come in her activism and school experience. “The first couple years of high school were difficult personally,” Marci says, explaining that she struggled with the transition. Winning the RFK Award, and hearing how highly Mr. Barga spoke of her, made it worth it. “I went through that pain and that personal struggle to get here,” she says, noting that she now has something to show for that experience. “I’m so proud.”
Next up for Marci is her senior year, and likely a college choice. “I believe education is power,” she says. She hopes to eventually pursue a career in politics, in addition to owning a bakery (Marci is an avid baker), which she believes will allow her to be part of a community that connects her to more people. “My mission is to do as much as I can, and fight for the things I think are important, but not shadowing and excluding the people who are the true faces of these movements,” Marci says.