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Today’s Youth Want More: Monique Coleman Previews Her New Discovery Life Series “Gimme MO'” [Exclusive]

It seems like the social and emotional issues that impact youth are neither being heard nor taken seriously. Just because someone can’t vote yet, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a say in the future of their own lives — especially when government is shaping policies that affect them directly. But we don’t even need to take it that far. How do kids today get their parents or family or even their communities to hear their concerns and act on them? Youth activist Monique Coleman plans to tackle just that in her new Discovery Life series Gimme MO’.

I had the chance to speak exclusively to Monique Coleman about her youth activism, exploring the topics kids and young adults care about, cultivating compassion for everyone and more.

TV GOODNESS: First, I wanted to ask you about your youth activism. How did that come about?

Monique Coleman: “I feel like I’ve always been a youth activist, in a sense. It’s something I’ve just been passionate about since I was younger. I’ve always advocated for younger people. I think the platform of High School Musical really gave me the platform to be able to take that further than I was able to do prior.”

TV GOODNESS: It’s always good to be a little bit more well-known to try to help other people and get the word out, right?

Coleman: “Yeah. I think more than that it validated for me what my purpose was. I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that you need a platform or that you need fame or money in order to make a difference. I think that you can start making a difference at any age.

And I’ve been passionate about young people, because I was born in 1980. I grew up at a time where I think adults actually talked down to children a lot and didn’t really give them the space to have a voice or to have a place. I had a lot to say and a lot to contribute as a young person. I don’t feel that I was given the full range of opportunity to be able to make the difference that I could’ve made at that age.

Now that I’ve grown up — and being a part of High School Musical — what it did for me, I realized that fame and success was never gonna fill the void. I still was gonna have problems. There was still gonna be things that I was gonna strive for in life. It made me realize that maybe I would play the smartest girl in school in the biggest Disney franchise for a bigger reason than fame. That bigger reason was because I, as an individual, was here for young people. I wanted to further that.”

TV GOODNESS: After the UN appointed you as a youth champion, what did that work expose you to? Is that what made you want to do your show?

Coleman: “It actually went the other way around. I had already started Gimme MO’ as a non-profit in 2010. That’s how I got to the United Nations. A 19 year-old that was on my team had been to the UN for youth day prior and suggested me as a speaker. I spoke on youth day in 2010, at which point I learned about the International Year of Youth.

My team put together a packet and sent it to the United Nations, basically saying we don’t know how I could get involved or what I could do, but I would like to use my voice in some way. When they gave the title, we initiated and funded a six month global tour on their behalf to understand what young people experience and face globally.

That work, again, even more deeply solidified my passion for young people, but it also exposed me to a deeper understanding about what young people are doing in the world and all the ways that they’re making a difference.”

TV GOODNESS: I personally love how much young people seem to be getting involved in their communities and politics; they’re finding their voice right now. Why do you think now is a good time for your show?

Coleman: “Because other people are ready to hear and recognize the power of youth. Young people have always been powerful. They have always been changing the world, whether that be the Civil Rights Movement or the Arab Spring. Young people have been leaders and change makers since the beginning of time. I think the rest of the world has caught up with that and is actually ready to listen to them. I’m excited to be able to bring that message to people.”

TV GOODNESS: I’m excited you’re doing this too. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys decided to choose the topics and the people and the organizations you wanted to feature in each of the episodes?

Coleman: “To be perfectly honest, a lot of the people are my friends. A lot of the organizations are people that I’ve worked with for years, that I feel like deserve to have more awareness brought to them. An example of that would be the Thirst Project, for instance, which is the largest youth led water organization. I just think the work they’re doing is so incredible.

Sometimes it was just looking at friends and giving them that platform to speak. Also, I think the format of the show and the idea is really to follow and to chase curiosity. It’s a little bit like VICE in that way. In the sense that it starts with what are the conversations that we have amongst ourselves? What are the conversations that we had at our dinner table or didn’t have at our dinner table? That’s really where the topics stemmed from.

Also, it’s the first two seasons of the show. We aren’t taking as deep of a dive as I know that we are capable of. It’s really also about just introducing the world to what some of the topics are that really impact young people, starting to peel back those layers. Things like social media and the impacts that it has on your self-esteem. Body positivity and how that movement has really affected culture. Me Too movement, but from the perspective of young people. We call that one Them Too, to see how is sexual violence showing up on college campuses and in high schools and in trafficking and things like that.”

TV GOODNESS: The first episode’s on bullying, which is always a good topic to tackle. We’ve been battling it forever and I think we’re finding some good solutions. Why did you want that to be the first topic?

Coleman: “That’s interesting. I feel like it was the best introduction into the whole series. It’s something, to me, that everyone has dealt with in some capacity or at least been aware of. Some of our topics can be a little bit more controversial, I would say. This one, for me, felt like a good introduction into what is Gimme MO’. ”

TV GOODNESS: Can you preview the premiere?

Coleman: “In this episode, I speak to Dara Renee who is starring in Freaky Friday on Disney Channel. I thought it was interesting that she was someone who was bullied, then actually played a character who was a bully. I wanted to talk to her about what that experience was like, embodying that. What she learned actually, and shared with me, was that she realized that she was playing someone who was hurt and was acting out because of that hurt.

I thought that was really interesting and an important message for people. Because as much as we need to talk about the side of bullying as it relates to being a victim, I also think to stop bullying, we need to talk to people who have been bullied about coping and understanding that we all actually have to have empathy, every single one of us, for other people. That for me, as someone who was bullied, my sense of purpose is what made me get through that and helped me a lot. I want to share that message.

Also, inside of the episode, I go to visit Rener Gracie, from the Gracie Academy. I learned some techniques. Their perspective is that confidence actually makes you bully proof. I really, especially over the years, have seen that to be true.

I have actually taken up Muay Thai myself. In learning to fight and getting better, I’m basically experiencing what [Rener] was talking about, where I’m able to stand up for myself a little bit more and have that confidence as well, which is cool.”

TV GOODNESS: Is there anything you wanted to talk about that I haven’t asked you?

Coleman: “I really want the show to cultivate compassion. That’s really why I’m doing it. I just think that right now, to me, this generation really inherited a lot of problems, from climate action to all sorts of things. There’s just so much.

Technology has done an amazing job of giving us the tools to solve a lot of things, but it’s also exposed us to the world in a way that we hadn’t had before. My hope is that a show like Gimme MO’ just inspires people to care and to take action on the things they care about.”

Edited for space and content.

Gimme MO’ premieres Wednesday, October 3rd at on Discovery Life.

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