Kassie Marcintowski recited some common stereotypes of youth Monday before calling on the community to share some of the values of her younger generation.
"Kids are always on their phones."
"We don't know politics."
"We have no manners."
Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Marcintowski offered a different perspective of teenagers and called on some 75 people at a rally in Caras Park to let youth and their new ideas lead the way.
"As kids, we are told that you will understand when you are older, but I think that we understand more now about how to be nicer and more accepting of other people," said Marcintowski, a junior at Big Sky High School.
The youth rally, part of the 2019 Missoula Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration, offered participants a window into the injustices teenagers want to remedy and presented their energy for change. The event commemorates the life of the civil rights leader and his own call to action: "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'"
Kya-Rae Arthur, of Salish Kootenai College, talked about the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women, a problem she said had been going on since people first sought to colonize the continent. Yet she said the problem faces not just indigenous women and girls.
Arthur, who wore a beaded crown and a ribbon skirt, said the situation can feel hopeless, but it's not, and she offered practical advice. She asked women and girls to be aware of their surroundings, and she also told them of their power.
"The biggest thing we have as women is our resilience. We keep going," said Arthur, in her second year at the college, and crowned "Miss SKC" last May.
Sylvie Tower told the crowd that King's accomplishments were substantial and lasting, but that work remains. Tower, in seventh grade at Meadow Hill Middle School, said society still needs to consider basic safety for people of color, and she said black people have been victims of medical inaction.
"What can we do? What can you do?" Tower said.
She suggested creating authentic relationships with people who are different. After the presentation, Tower said she wanted to participate partly because she's a black girl who wants to speak up about her rights.
"You can initiate difficult conversations," Tower said at the rally. "You can stand up when you see an injustice." She also asked people to commit to continuing King's work.
"Each one of us has a purpose and a part in creating positive change," Tower said.
In addition to the guidance from youth on the actions people can take to continue to make progress in justice and equality, the event celebrated one key value of the assassinated civil rights leader. It kicked off with Makenna Alick at the microphone singing about freedom.
"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, it's a new life," Alick said, to whoops and cheers.
The rally proceeded a community social and keynote address at St. Anthony's Church. Heidi Wallace, executive director of EmpowerMT, said youth have been a part of the celebration for at least 13 years because their experiences have the power to ignite social activism. EmpowerMT is a key sponsor of the event.
She said the presentation by youth gives people a way to follow the lead of young people: "And we see the power of it, right? It's so amazing."