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Chester County Press

Kennett High School sophomore Isabella Hanson earns widespread accolades for her work

12/01/2020 12:44PM ● By Steven Hoffman

While most Americans can list for you the Netflix series that they’ve binge watched, the new bread recipes that they’ve tried, or the number of closets that they’ve reorganized during quarantine, Isabella Hanson’s list of accomplishments over the last nine months is slightly different. Quite simply, the Kennett High School sophomore spent her lockdown changing the world. And her efforts have earned her a special commendation from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf as well as recognition on the Top 50 list for Nickelodeon/Time’s Kid of the Year Award. 

Issued this fall, Gov. Wolf’s commendation includes Bella among “the rich heritage of individuals who have made contributions to their communities and our commonwealth.” 

He specifically noted Isabella’s organization of Kennett’s Juneteenth: Network to Freedom celebration and her involvement in creating a national youth poetry contest that revolved around the theme of why black lives matter. 

The Juneteenth event highlighted by Wolf was the first big event that Isabella had ever coordinated. Her mother, Sophia Hanson, is a co-founder of The National Youth Foundation (NYF), an organization whose mission is to promote inclusion and gender equity through literacy. Mrs. Hanson and NYF were the recipients of a Gucci Changemakers grant, and once Isabella came up with the idea for the celebration, Mrs. Hanson encouraged her daughter to apply for a grant as well. Gucci Changemakers awarded the grant, and Isabella used part of the money to pay for the basic necessities—renting a podium, a tent, and chairs; distributing free books on Black history; contracting a photographer; and printing t-shirts. The socially distanced event took place on June 19, the day that commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States and marks the beginning of emancipation. 

Isabella arranged for the function to be held at the Fussell House located on E. Baltimore Pike. Also known as the Pines, the Fussell House was a key stop on the Underground Railroad. Approximately 2,000 enslaved people passed through the house on their way to freedom, so to both celebrate the lives and honor the struggle of African Americans in its shadow was the perfect choice. Through Sophia Hanson’s work with the NYF, the Fussell House is now one of six hundred locations officially recognized by the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. 

Isabella handled every detail of the special invitation-only event that was attended by over one hundred people, including Dr. Susan Fussell, a descendant of Bartholomew and Lydia Fussell, the Quaker activists who provided refuge in their home for a decade in the mid-1800s. 

One of the highlights for Isabella was meeting Dr. Fussell. Even though she “knew it was a long shot,” Bella located and contacted Dr. Fussell to invite her to the Juneteenth celebration, never suspecting that she would travel the distance from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where she holds a position as a professor in the Communication and Information Sciences departments. But, Dr. Fussell was all-too-happy to make the trip, and Isabella was thrilled that she did. 

The event was a great success, and Isabella is already planning for Juneteenth 2021. 

Simultaneous to her work on the Juneteenth event, Isabella was also conducting a nationwide, K-12 youth poetry contest titled “I Matter.” She funded this project with what remained of her Gucci Changemakers grant, and Gucci actually provided a panel of celebrity judges, including comedienne Torrei Hart, hip hop artist Kool Moe Dee, and singer Tamara “Taj” Johnson-George. Isabella had previously narrowed the pool of over one hundred submissions to the top ten entries, and the panel selected the final three. The top ten poems were included in a recently published, limited edition book, “I Matter,” with accompanying illustrations by local student artists. 

In the book’s introduction, Isabella explains the source of her inspiration for the project: she “launched this idea to help process the pain [she] and other African Americans felt after watching the killing of George Floyd.” In short, she turned shared pain into activism. 

Recently, Isabella was also named to the Top 50 list for the Nickelodeon/Time’s Kid of the Year Award for her community volunteerism and advocacy work, specifically her direction of the Juneteenth event and the “I Matter” contest and book. She was formally recognized on Dec. 5 during an awards show simulcast on Nickelodeon and CBS and hosted by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. 

Isabella competed for one of the top fifty spots against thousands of young Americans. Based on the impact she has made in Kennett, it is easy to see why she was selected. 

Kennett High School principal Dr. Jeremy Hritz offered his enthusiastic praise. 

“Bella is a true leader who actively seeks out opportunities to bring about positive change in our world,” he said. “Her work ethic, dedication, and passion shine through her efforts, and we are honored and proud that she is a part of Kennett High School.”

Photo by Sandrien B Photography.