Commenting on Nadya’s age isn't new, especially when talking about her list of accomplishments. By now she’s best known as the “period girl” for her work with the non-profit organization Period that promotes education about menstruation and resources for people that Nadya co-founded with Vincent Forand. The monicker doesn’t bother her; in fact she takes pride in being known as the founder of a movement, and being an activist is an important role in her life.
“All I know is that I want to be working on an international scale and addressing social justice,” she told NBC Asian America on the topic. “I’m not considering [stopping] anytime soon.”
Two years later and she’s really not stopping. With an organization to run, a city councilor campaign under her belt, and a book coming out soon, Nadya also had time for a brief Q&A with ECAASU. Below she talks about being an activist, her role models, and getting involved as an activist when you’re young.
How old were you when you were first called an "activist"?
I think it wasn’t until I was 17 and had launched my organization publicly. I was self-identifying as an activist, running a cause I really cared about.
How often does your age (and assumed inexperience) come up when you tell people what you do?
My age comes up, like, everyday. Every time I’m on the phone with someone, and it comes up whether someone is impressed with me, or someone is not impressed with me. People will say, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re only twenty.” Or they’re saying in a bad way, “I don’t know if we can partner with you because you’re, blank (age).”
When did you realize that the work you did could have a larger impact?
I think I realized my work could have a larger impact when my organization hit 100 thousand periods, just last year. We’re now at about 200 thousand periods addressed, but it really solidified in my head when he hit that 100 thousand.
Why should students and other young-people get involved now (while they're still young) and not later?
I think other students and other young people should get involved because when I think of politics and social change that really gains to better our future, then who better to have a say in that than the future leaders of our world?
Who would you like to see get more involved in activist spaces? In what ways would you like to see them involved?
I would like to see more young people, more people of color–– women, especially–– get involved in activist spaces because I think those voices are often marginalized. I think those voices could get involved by sharing their own stories and being able to share the stories that are advocating from more unique and empathetic perspectives.
How did the work of your role models, like you mom, the Obamas, Hillary Clinton, and Rachel Maddow, inspire your work?
The work of my role models inspired me, both in terms of impact and why they did it. Why they did it, why they’re so passionate about the work, and how clearly you can see their passion for the work that they do.
You've had so many amazing opportunities-- interviewing Hillary Clinton, multiple profiles in magazine, awards-- do you have a favorite or most memorable?
You know, it interesting in terms of reflecting on past memories because I don’t think I reflect on them as amazing opportunities. Which, I know they are. But I have an issue with––I don’t take moments to breathe and reflect on them. But I sort of see it as part of my job. I love those opportunities because I’m able to talk to someone and learn more about how I can be a better activist myself.
How, if at all, do you separate yourself from your work/ "period girl" and you as Nadya Okamoto?
It’s hard for me to separate myself from work, but I’m able to by making sure I spend time with friends and spend time on self care.
What's the key that helps you balance your work, school, and your own interests/ self-care?
Uh, I don’t know if I’m balancing it. But I live by my Google calendar and I make sure I go to the gym everyday, and those are self care things that I make sure I do. And I also talk to my family almost every day.
What's your best advice for the easiest or best ways that anybody can become an activist for causes they care about?
I think it would just be to speak out. Start posting on social media what you care about, talking to your friends about what you care about. Just speak out, don’t stay quiet. I think the worst thing you can do it not say anything. If you want to be an activist, think about what you care about: what makes you angry, what makes you passionate, what makes you feel like you have that fire inside of you… then speak out about it.