Thomas W. Jendrock Student Activist Award: Speaking up started early for Kelly Helton

Kelly received a $1,000 scholarship in part thanks to FFRF member Thomas W. Jendrock. She will also be speaking as a student activist at FFRF’s 40th annual convention Sept. 15-16. (See back page for convention details.) She is the 12-year-old daughter of Life Member Jim G. Helton of Kentucky, founder of Tri-State Freethinkers, who notes all of Kelly’s activism is initiated by Kelly herself.

By Kelly Helton

My activism started in elementary school when my brother Grover challenged the school by refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I saw firsthand how one person could make a difference. So I decided I would sit, as well. The difference was I sat in the front of the class at the time, so everyone could see. Several other students ended up sitting once they realized it was an option.

In middle school, we were singing so many religious songs that one of my classmates said, “I feel like I’m in church.” Clearly, this was an issue. So, I told my teacher how singing religious songs made some of my classmates and myself feel uncomfortable. My teacher knew who my dad was and didn’t want to be sued, so she said she would try to figure something out. The next day, all the religious songs were removed from my class. However, the other classes still had religious songs. Since my choral teacher continues to put religious songs in our classes, the Tri-State Freethinkers will be sending out a letter.

I have been volunteering at Planned Parenthood for quite some time now. I go to almost every protest and rally. One day, we were going to the state Capitol and we knew there were going to be counterprotesters. My mom was concerned, so she told me I wasn’t allowed to go. My dad was getting ready to leave and I knew I had to go, so I snuck into the back seat of his car. As he was getting onto the highway, I popped out of the back seat and said, “I told you I was going!” We had to meet other supporters to catch a chartered bus, so there was no time to turn around.

My dad called my mom and told her what happened. She was furious, but there was nothing my dad could do. She told him not to let me out of his sight. When we got there the counterprotesters separated us. I ended up by the podium with state senators and my dad nowhere in sight.

Afterward, my mom asked how things went and if there were any problems. My dad told her everything went fine and he stood by my side the whole time. Unfortunately for him, I was on the front page of the news, pictured next to the senators with my dad nowhere in sight!
I wanted to make a difference so I asked my dad if I could speak at a Planned Parenthood rally. My dad spoke with Stephanie from Planned Parenthood and gave me most of his speaking time. Ever since then I have been requesting to speak. So far, I have spoken at Planned Parenthood, International Women’s Day in Cincinnati, Tri-State Freethinkers and NaNoCon.

The most important issue the world faces is the struggle for equal rights. I felt I could make a difference locally, so I started to speak up and encourage other people to speak up as well.

Freedom From Religion Foundation