The Shape of Punks to Come: Halley Vincent’s activism empire spreads from atop a riding mower

Halley Vincent

Halley Vincent loads up her riding lawnmower and prepares for delivery. // Courtesy photo

Halley Vincent is anything but your typical middle-schooler. Activist, student, and creator of a nonprofit organization, the 13-year-old has managed to spearhead the literacy of the Shawnee community and create profound systemic change extending into Kansas City as a whole. 

“A lot of people reference what I do as service work, and I think that’s pretty true,” says Halley. “It’s also true that a life of service work can totally begin when you’re in elementary school because, well, I did it.”

As a child, Halley frequented a local animal shelter as a volunteer, reading to the dogs and cats awaiting homes. The weekly routine shifted her passion for helping those in need into full force, and as the word of Halley’s work spread, friends, locals, and even authors began to send her books, growing her collection. She was armed with a stack of literature and a desire to do more. Now, it was time to put her plan in motion.

At eight years old, Halley created her own nonprofit organization, Paws Up KC. The “kid-powered philanthropy” organization depends almost solely on donation drives and fundraiser events focused on highlighting the link between animal adoption and literacy. All proceeds benefit animal agencies in Kansas City, such as The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, Great Plains SPCA, and Chain of Hope. 

“I think people don’t realize that books, literacy, and animals really do connect in many ways,” says Halley. “I like to say that the same people that have a stack of books next to their beds are usually the same people that have a cat in their lap or a dog at their feet.”

Using a broken lawn mower passed down to her, Halley devised a method to put Paws Up KC on wheels. After sanding it down, painting it gold, and attaching a leopard print seat, her bookmobile was born and ready to hit the streets. 

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Halley Vincent reads to a pup. // Courtesy photo

With the helping hands of her mother, Ali Vincent, Halley was able to roam their neighborhood in her DIY vehicle, providing free books to those who seek a good read while getting the word out about Paws Up KC.

“She came up with an efficient system,” Ali says. “She handed out little flags to those interested. If on her next drive, she saw them in a yard, then she knew where to stop.”

After working diligently for over a year, the then 9-year-old was a full-blown entrepreneur after Paws Up KC received the official nonprofit status of being a 501(c)(3). Halley had successfully managed to mesh two separate ideas of community service into one, all before graduating from middle school.

Halley and Ali dreamed of opening a space dedicated to supporting Paws Up KC and bringing literature to the community in even more ways.

“For me, the natural next step after a bookmobile was to create an actual in-person bookstore,” says Halley. “So, we made it happen.”

The mother-and-daughter duo took a course together on how to get a business started, set their plan into motion, and the independent bookstore Seven Stories was born in November 2022. 

Located in downtown Shawnee (11111 W. 59th Terr., Suite 203D Shawnee, KS 66203), the shop is no larger than 200 square feet and full to the brim with books suited for people of all ages.

The inside of Seven Stories is intently sectioned by reads that cover various societal issues exploring racism, book censorship, and everything in between. The shop features novels written by a diverse array of authors, many of which were sent to Halley by the writers themselves.

Various books, art pieces, and knick-knacks around the shop are marked with animal labels, indicating proceeds will go to Paws Up KC. 

Together, the pair also created the Monthly Book Clubs for Brilliantly Bookish People. The club was inspired by Halley’s desire to spark community conversation around topics that are too often glossed over, specifically around minority groups.

A biracial individual herself, Halley is no stranger to the discriminatory and insensitive manner in which society repeatedly treats non-white folks. And with a family just as passionate as she is, change was on the way.

Each Wednesday, the Vincent family stationed themselves at the nearby park to talk to locals about the tribal history of the area. Eleven years old at the time, Halley was there to keep an eye on her little sister. The tween activist-in-the-making didn’t want to babysit, though; she wanted to join the conversation.

“I started listening more and became interested in actually talking about it and being a part of it all,” says Halley. “I think that change happened so quickly because I am a kid.”

She began putting on her own presentations for the community and showcased them at the park alongside her family. Now, it wasn’t just adults educating adults. It was also kids educating adults.

Furthermore, Halley took to the internet, creating a space where she could educate those who weren’t at the park every week via Instagram. She uploaded informational videos to her account, @Pawsupkc, where she’s known as “Hal, Kid-In-Charge.” 

As the account became a useful platform for her activism, Halley noticed problems in the community she wanted to help resolve. One of these problems was Shawnee Mission North High School’s long-standing mascot using Native American imagery.

Family friend Emily Bartlett reached out to Halley and Ali in hopes of joining their efforts to make a change.

“Ali’s partner, and someone that Halley calls Dad, is a Lakota,” says Bartlett. “I remember she was really disturbed when she realized that he would one day be dropping her off at the high school and have to see offensive images all over.”

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A big haul. // Courtesy photo

Bartlett, Ali, Halley, and a few others formed a group with a plan to change the district’s mascot policy. Each week, they headed to the school board’s meetings to voice their concerns. 

“Halley started writing letters to tons of people,” Bartlett said. “She would find them on Twitter or through her own research. She would speak with well-known Indigenous  people and tell them the issue, ask them to write a letter, and then go to the Shawnee Mission board meetings with the letters in hand.”

Halley’s approach included making packets containing letters written by individuals from all over the country. Then, at each board meeting, she handed each board member a packet. In record timing, the recent elementary school graduate gathered a unanimous vote from the school board. And in 2021, Shawnee Mission North changed its mascot after 98 years. 

The district’s board of education’s ruling meant change for more than just Shawnee Mission North, though. Belinder Elementary, Rushton Elementary, and Shawanoe Elementary were all required to replace their racially insensitive mascots with something more appropriate.

“It is a big accomplishment because I’ll be going to North next year,” says Halley. “I’m really proud to go to a school that I helped change.”

Halley’s accomplishments haven’t come without backlash, though. 

“There were people calling her a Nazi at the school board meetings,” says Ali. “We had to ask news outlets to change her name when reporting on her because the threats were getting bad. That definitely made her mature fast.”

Through it all, the now 13-year-old persevered, making more grandiose progress in her community.

“She thinks of the world through the lens of, ‘What can I do to make it better?’” says Bartlett. “I think the bookstore and Paws Up KC really came out of her wanting to help people understand why they also need to help with things.”

As the beginning of high school approaches quickly for Halley, she is on the hunt for more sets of hands, and even potential partnerships, to help move forward her vision and that of Paws Up KC.

Halley continues to improve the KC metro while driving laps around us adults—and we’re thrilled to watch. 

Categories: Politics