Activist teenager’s mission: Keep her peers safe through sexual health education


Abbie McMillan (AM), age 16, has been a public speaker and an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education. She has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice for advocacy training and networking on a national scale.

Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) interviewed Abbie in conjunction with being honored this year by the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP) as a teen who has “made an outstanding contribution in the field of adolescent sexual health promotion, pregnancy prevention and/or support for young families.”

Abbie was named Abbie, not “Abigail,” for her maternal great grandmother. Her one surviving grandparent is her paternal grandfather. The family celebrated his 80th birthday with a family reunion a couple years ago in North Carolina.

Her father is from North Carolina; her mother is from North Dakota where both parents attended college. Her father is a teacher of speech at Humboldt High School in St. Paul.

Abbie’s family has lived in the same house for 16 years — a rarity, she says. She’s had the same friends since the third grade. She attends Cooper High School.

MSR: Abbie, tell us about the work you were honored for.

AM: I worked on comprehensive sexuality education, trying to get more contraceptives in my school and in my community, to get the word out to teens to realize what they need to keep safe.

MSR: How does it feel to receive the kind of attention you’ve been getting?

AM: It’s nice to know I’m being recognized for what I did. It’s a little overwhelming to be asked to be part of the solution to such a bigger picture.

MSR: How does this fit with your plans for the future?

AM: Not only do I want to continue to help teens to stay safe, I’m planning on being a teacher, helping kids deal with problems and with life.

MSR: Tell us about your heroes.

AM: My 23-year-old brother Bobby. He succeeds in everything. He’s been out of the country without our parents, and he’s going again — to Africa, to Kenya. He’s saved money; he lives in Manhattan, sharing an apartment. He played football in college, and he got a job right out of college. I still have people in the community who tell me they know my brother.

MSR: Please talk about a favorite teacher:

AM: My AVID teacher pushes me when I want to give up, teaches me to look on the better side. If I need to, I can go to her with problems with school or a class or home. She always has some remedy or solution. She’s more like a counselor. She helps everyone. I don’t know how — she’s the president of this and that and does activities — but she keeps it all organized. She wants us to succeed.

AVID [Advancement Via Individual Determination, a college-preparatory program] is for the average student who might not have the money or the encouragement they need to go to college. Georgetown would be my dream college, but reciprocal tuition with [public colleges in] neighboring states [e.g., Iowa, Wisconsin] makes them more affordable than the private colleges.

MSR: What would be your ideal work/job?

AM: To be a professional soccer player. I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old. I play all year round. I was [once] in a “sudden death” [a clinch to break a tied score]. If we won, we went from district to state [-level competition]. I had to come through. [I sent the ball] clear over the goal.

[Abbie also said she is interested in teaching.] If not a teacher (social studies, English), I would be a senior high school counselor, investing my time helping others.

MSR: If you could be anyone, who would you be?

AM: If you take away the money and the cameras, the famous people are just people; those are fantasy lives. I’ve never wanted to trade lives. I like my life. I’ll stick with being me.

MSR: If you could live any place, where would it be?

AM: Washington, D.C. — felt homey, welcoming. When I was there, I felt so comfortable I looked up and realized I forgot where I was.

My father told my mother, “She’s got to get out there [on her own].” My first trip there, I was the youngest [at] 14 years old [in our group.] The oldest in our delegation was 55. The second time [I went, the group was] high school and college aged.

I’d [also] like Jamaica…

MSR: If you could live anytime in history, when?

AM: I’d like to try on one of those hoop skirts to see what it would be like, but I’ll take this time. I’d stick with what I know…

I would’ve liked to have been part of the Civil Rights Movement for my people. They say you can’t go forward unless you know where you’ve been. I’m mixed, but I call myself Black. I get angry when there’s only one box to mark. I want a box that’s marked “other.” There have been many instances where I’ve been uncomfortable where I’ve been neither White enough for the Whites or Black enough for the Blacks.

MSR: On a desert island, what would you want/need?

AM: People. With other people, we could find food and shelter. I live off other people’s energy. They’re all you have — people. I’m an extravert. I love being around people.

MSR: Tell us about your favorite color.

AM: Green. It’s like life blooming, like nature. I like being outdoors. I hate wearing shoes.

And I’ve always liked [the color] purple. You could say it’s “eye happy.”

Pink is too “girlie.” I’m not girlie. My parents got me Barbie [dolls], but I remember popping a few Barbie dolls’ heads off. I am definitely a tomboy.

MSR: If you closed your eyes, what animal would you see yourself as?

AM: A hawk. And that’s our school mascot.

MSR: Tell us about the last time you laughed.

AM: Last night, outside the house, with friends. It was a small thing, not funny; but laughter is beautiful. My favorite laughter is when it takes your breath away, when you laugh ’til your ribs hurt, when it started out as something that just happened.

I love to smile. I’ve always been happy go lucky, life long. My mom said I didn’t cry as a baby.

MSR: Fill in the blank: My eyes are ________.

AM: My eyes are open to the world.

MSR: Fill in the blank: My hands are ________.

AM: My hands are open to the possibilities.

Elizabeth Ellis welcomes reader responses to