Betty Henderson James Island Ocean ActKIDvist

Betty Henderson, 8, is one of the founders of the James Island Ocean ActKIDvist group. The initiative has been urging local politicians to pass bans on single-use plastic bags. Photo provided.

When the activists presented the hundreds of signatures they collected in support of banning single-use plastic, one of their moms proudly pointed out their names were all written in crayon.

At a recent James Island Town Council meeting, a group of four children who call themselves the James Island Ocean ActKIDvists walked up to the microphone to speak for the animals who cannot speak for themselves.

"We have collected over 300 signatures from local children who want to protect our ocean, our ocean and beaches," said 8-year-old Betty Henderson after her 6-year-old brother, Louis, passed her the microphone.

She thumbed through a stack of papers, eliciting a big grin from Councilman Josh Stokes and an audible "wow" from Councilman Leonard Blank. 

"We care about the sea turtles or whales that get sick or die," said Makena Ryan, 8. While Makena spoke, her 6-year-old brother, Liam, held an orange sign that said "Ban plastic bags."

The children stayed at the meeting for as long as they could but had to leave before the final vote. Even activists have bedtimes, said Lindsey Henderson, who is Betty and Louis' mom.

None of the ActKIDvists are old enough to vote, but they aren't letting their age hold them back. Their goal is two-fold: To teach other children about the danger that plastic pollution poses to marine life, and to lead events to clean up area beaches.

Already, these young activists are seeing results.

They've led beach sweeps, hosted educational events at the Terrace Theater, and have shared their concerns during public comment periods at municipal meetings. When the city of Charleston considered enacting a ban on single-use plastics in November, Betty and Louis told City Council members why they should vote for it. 

They did.

Henderson said her children started becoming more civically engaged in 2017 when they joined her in pushing for a moratorium on apartment complexes on James Island. After that, a friend referred her to an initiative in Columbia called ActKIDvist, which was spearheaded by a child in Columbia, Rissy McDonald, who is now 14. 

Rissy issued a summer challenge, urging youth to find an issue they care about, research it and then take action. That's when Betty, Louis, Makena and Liam discovered how much they wanted to protect the ocean.

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"The lesson is that little itty-bitties can be civic leaders, too," Henderson said.

The children meet regularly for meetings and play dates, where they write an agenda on a small chalkboard and come up with ways to encourage others to join their efforts. 

Recently, the group focused on their pitch to convince grown-ups on James Island to pass an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags, straws and foam containers being distributed by businesses within the town limits.

They showed up before the meeting with posters and signs, and made their plea during the public comment period.

The ordinance passed unanimously Thursday night.

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.