Animal Hero Kids - Voices For The Voiceless
“I don't want to educate the vegans. I want to educate the non-vegans. And so that's what Animal Hero Kids is about: to open people's hearts to thinking about other animals”.
Welcome to the second installment of Vegan Hero Of The Week! This time, we interviewed the Founder of Animal Hero Kids, Susan Hargreaves. Susan has been a vegan activist for 40 years in addition to being a published author and a leading influencer in the plant-based community.
Her book “Animal Hero Kids - Voices for the Voiceless”, which was published in 2014, paved the way for creating Animal Hero Kids. The overall mission of Animal Hero Kids is to empower youth to spread veganism and change the world for the better.
We are very excited to share this interview with you. We had so much fun conducting it and learned so many interesting things about this organization. Let’s jump right in, feel free to also watch the full video interview below!
Mark Perlmutter: Tell us how you got to where you are and your idea of helping kids be change agents. I’d love to hear the story of the journey.
Susan Hargreaves: When I was nine, my aunt worked at an egg hatchery and she said ‘Susan, because you love animals so much. I’m going to take you to work with me today so you can see all the baby chicks’. So, my nine-year-old self went to this big warehouse where I saw all these industrial bins and conveyor belts and all the male chicks being gassed and suffocated. I looked to the adults in the room expecting them to help the chicks, but they just continued sorting, didn’t really pay attention to me... it was just business as usual. And I thought, ‘I will always want to help other children and teens not feel helpless in the face of animal abuse’.
Since 1980, I’ve been doing outreach, presentations in schools, free education programs, vegan fairs…. And I can cater my programs to any age from preschool right up until college or university with a variety of programs.
MP: Explain to our viewers/readers the story behind your book (Animal Hero Kids - Voice of the Voiceless) that inspired the organization you lead today.
SH: This book has hundreds of stories about kids who have helped animals.
For instance, it was 20 years ago when I gave my first award at a school during an assembly. And at the end of each assembly, the schoolchildren get to keep an Animal Hero Kids card, like a pledge card to take with them.
The following week, one of the boys who had kept the pledge card saw a morning dove that was bleeding by a bush and his friends said “who cares about the stupid bird, we've got to get to school, who cares?” And he said to himself, “if I don't help this bird, who will?”. He looked at his Animal Hero Kids card he knew exactly what to do because the card outlines how to help animals. He got a box, cut holes in the box, put the bird in the box, walked the box to school, and then they knew the number to call!
MP: I would love to learn how you encourage these young activists that are part of Animal Hero Kids, and how and where they perform their animal advocacy.
SH: Actually, this July, I was in London for the ‘Paul McCartney Young Veg Advocate’ award. We also have the Animal Hero Kids ‘Kind to All’ award. In essence, both awards are given to a child who is helping all species of animals. And then, we have the Creative award category: for someone who will create a song, a rap, even an idea of video, piece of art that inspires compassion.
Speaking of which, we have some beautiful winners in that category that are also featured in the Animal Hero Kids book. One of them is a song written by a young team in China who was working against the ivory trade, and they wrote a song titled “This Ache” which is about a mother elephant speaking to the hunter. Not only that, but at every Animal Hero Kids award ceremony, we sing this song. So it’s a way to honor their efforts.
Most of the work our young advocates do is done in schools through presentations, using the book as a tool to guide others into spreading veganism and helping every kind. We give away the book after each presentation and our presentations are free: we even pay for the kids and their guardians to come to get the award.
MP: I found a picture on Facebook of you and AHK president Vegan Evan. Tell us a little bit about the other two people and also I think most of us are curious: how does a non-profit organization have a nine year old president?
Oh, yes, Tori Washington was the vegan bodybuilder, and in the cow costume that’s actually Sean Russell. This picture was taken as we were doing a promo for the Animal Hero Kids ‘Vegan Mac-and-Cheese’ Challenge To Save The Earth’. What’s great about the challenges we do is that we try to involve as many people as possible. So for this challenge we got seven restaurants do vegan mac-and-cheese. And: hosting this event we had kids, bodybuilders (Tori was included) judge each dish they prepared.
Actually, our first president was seven, his name is Dominic! And I met Evan when he was five. This is about kids being empowered to say what they want and not think ‘oh you’re just kids’. We also have numerous co-presidents over in Brazil, Canada, England, and the United States and you can see them on our Facebook Page (Animal Hero Kids) and even some of them collaborating with organizations like Million Dollar Vegan.
MP: I watched the video interview of Vegan Evan, and he speaks quite confidently. I was very impressed.
SH: You know, kids are way more brilliant than adults give them credit for. My background is in early childhood education, so I know how smart three year olds are. The average adult, therefore, is really shocked at eloquence, but they also question ‘okay, is this really the kids talking or are you telling them what to say?’.
It is obvious to anyone, just speaking with Evan, and all our co-presidents that they’re just speaking from their heart. And then to say that someone else is telling them what to say is denigrating the independence, individuality, and intelligence of that child.
MP: Exactly. It’s about encouraging others to be activists for the right causes. Speaking of which, would you tell us if there were any particular events or situations that inspired your activism?
SH: When I was in grade seven in Toronto, I learned they were clubbing seals in Canada to produce castoreum and the media was trying to hide it. So I decided to organize a walkout in my school and we shared this walkout with other schools and it was like mayhem.
I was very active in the Canadian Animal Rights Network and did a lot of direct action and undercover investigations in stockyards and slaughterhouses in the 80s. One of them was at Caleb St. Clair in Toronto (stockyards). I was posing as an agricultural student and I couldn't help any of the animals I saw. They didn't have any water and they were there all weekend in the stockyards after traveling and having electroshock burn marks all over their bodies.
There's always one particular animal- one that you can't forget when you wake up at four o'clock in the morning and for me, that was this goat that was standing up looking straight into my eyes. Calling, just calling and standing right up on his legs looking straight into my face. And I thought: ‘how can I come back and get this goat and put him in my van?’.
And I also had mentors like Alex Herschaft from Farm Sanctuary. I remember that, as a vegan in the 80s, nobody knew what the word ‘vegan’ meant and I would say I was ‘totally vegetarian’ or ‘complete vegetarian’. And actually Alex and I co-hosted the American Meetups with free vegan food for the people interested.
So, obviously, as the founder of Animal Hero Kids, I'm not going to be encouraging children to chain themselves to doorways and things, because that would be dangerous for the children, and Animal Hero Kids is more about education and kindness to all. It's an irrefutable fact that if a child has rescued an animal (no matter what species that animal is) everybody thinks it’s wonderful. And so it's a mainstream message that is not intendedt to educate the vegans. Instead, I want to educate the non-vegans. And so that's what Animal Hero Kids is about: to open people's hearts to thinking about other animals,
MP: For any non-vegans transitioning, or any family with a young person, how do you think they might support him/her into coming to their own positions, actions on the subject of animal treatment?
SH: In Animal Hero Kids, we strongly believe in helping a young person come into their own decision: we do not want to push a child to do something they don’t want to do. Either way, as far as having children, we have to give them the facts and be honest, without traumatizing them. That’s why I wrote the Animal Hero Kids book and we are currently working on a documentary with the same name, geared towards children in 430 schools. This is because kids want to hear about factory farming, the link between climate change and animal-based agriculture.
You know, kids haven’t been trained to think of this as normal. Once they find out what’s happening to animals, they’re shocked. They’re not adults that have thought ‘Oh, everything is fine’ and they have been cultured doing this for many years. For instance, Genesis Butler, the 2014 Paul McCartney AHK award winner, was six when she asked her mom what was on her plate and kudos to the mom who answered honestly. She’s been involved with animal advocacy for years now and everyone at Animal Hero Kids teach each other and they also learn from what they read in the book.
MP: In closing, what can people do to help other Animal Hero Kids get involved and what can the other kids do that want to get involved? Give us some ideas on that.
SH: Good question!
MP: That’s what we’d call...a Beyond Meatball pitch!
SH: What people can do is go to AnimalHeroKids.org, click on the button that says ‘Join Us’ that will direct you to all of our volunteer guidelines and requirements.
I want to make sure that people realize that we're all about positive education and bringing all the kids together, so there might be a child that lives in a small village in Alaska that finds the ‘Animal Hero Kids - Voices For The Voiceless’ book in his/her school library (and also on the website). This happened (...) and next thing you know: her mother calls and says that her daughter wants to help sled dogs in Alaska.
So now, the mother and the girl has never even heard the word ‘vegan’ before. That’s okay. It's okay for the child to call up when he/she's seen the book, and he/she wants to be an animal hero. And so you wouldn't believe the number of kids that come in because they want to help dogs, they want to help cats and, eventually, they find out what's happening to all animals.
Animal Hero Kids is also looking for sponsors for the book. You can help sponsor the book by promoting it in a number of ways. For instance, you can promote it to you alma mater, make it available in to you local community, and even publicize it through your business. If you do so, someone from the organization will visit you to give a presentation!
Here at VegReady, we encourage anyone that wants to reach out to Susan Hargreaves to send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in an education program that involves presentations, school assemblies or showing their documentary and overall sharing all these engaging stories not just from the Animal Hero Kids book but from the speakers themselves. It’s time to empower youth to heal this world.
*Questions and answers have been edited for lenght and style
Image Credit: AnimalHeroKids.org