Courtesy Photo
Dahkota Brown (left) with William Mendoza, of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, and NERDS partner, Dahlton Brown with the #ChangeTheName frame.

Dahkota Brown Is on Fire—He’s Met the Pres, Been on MTV and Hosted Youth Events

Vincent Schilling

In 2013, Dahkota Kicking Bear Brown was named one of five Champions for Change by the Center for Native American Youth for his after school study group NERDS. In the two years since, this 16-year-old Miwok youth has shown no signs of letting up—he has met with President Barack Obama five times, hugged Michelle Obama during the White House’s kickoff of Generation Indigenous, has appeared on an MTV special, and has hosted two annual NERDS Native Youth conferences.

Brown’s claim to fame began with NERDS or Native Education Raising Dedicated Students, an after school group that focuses on helping Native students. Concerned for the welfare of his fellow students who were not graduating, Brown started NERDS while he was in 8th grade.

“NERDS started as a group of friends, and has grown to a network of peers I now consider family. Our after school program grew to be so successful, we turned NERDS into a trademarked nonprofit,” Brown, who is now a junior at Argonaut High School in Jackson, California, told ICTMN. “Currently there are nine NERDS clubs throughout Northern California, and we have over 250 students who proudly call themselves NERDS and at least 19 students have now graduated who were before failing or struggling. We also have a recognized logo and a very successful summer school program.”

RELATED: Champion for Change Chosen for Helping Fellow Native Students

Since being recognized as one of the initial five Champions for Change in 2013, Brown has continued to work for Indian country from his hometown in California as well as in the nation’s capitol. As a result of his work, he has met with President Obama five times.

One of those meetings was with the United States Senate Youth Program—Brown was the first federally recognized Native ever selected in the Hearst Foundation’s 53 years history. “They send 104 students a year and during the event, I gifted the President a NERDS medallion I beaded myself last summer. It is the only one in existence.”

Brown even managed to get a hug from First Lady Michelle Obama. On April 8, Brown was asked to travel to Washington, D.C. to moderate a youth panel discussion at the White House as part of the Obama Administration’s Gen-I Native Youth initiative, where he met First Lady Michelle Obama. “She hugged me, and we got our photo together, which the White House will get me a copy of,” Brown told ICTMN.

Capitalizing on the success of his after school tutoring program, Brown took the NERDS name and created an annual NERDS Youth Gathering, which began in 2014.

During his conference this February, which was created and hosted by Brown, more than 130 Native youth from all over Northern California traveled to the event to learn from a plethora of public speakers and mentors about life after high school, including information about colleges and universities, trade schools and careers in the military.

Brown invited a number of speakers to talk to hopeful students in February. Like Dr. Melissa Leal, who holds a Ph.D. in Native American Studies and was the lead researcher for the MTV World, Rebel Music: Native America documentary. Leal shared an MTV World promotional video as part of Obama’s newest initiative geared toward Native youth, called Generation Indigenous or Gen I. Brown was selected as one of the 38 youth from across the country to be part of the inaugural class of Gen-I.

RELATED: The White House Aims for Change with Gen-I Native Youth Challenge

William Mendoza, executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, spoke to students about Gen-I and the upcoming, first ever, National Native Youth Conference to be hosted this summer in Washington, D.C. by the President and his White House staff.

Other speakers at the NERDS Conference spoke about applying to colleges and scholarships, and there was even a session on ending teen suicide. “The guest speakers were amazing, but just a small part of the day to make the gathering successful. It is hard to believe that a group of students, some barely old enough to drive, organized the entire event.” Brown said. There were 25 booths for students to browse including a number of colleges and organizations.

During the event, the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians donated $5,000 to NERDS.

“The band has been supportive of the program since Brown started it, providing opportunities for community service, and a primary funding source to start NERDS, said Brown. “The 2nd Annual NERDS Youth Gathering would not have been possible without the continued support of the Jackson Band of Miwuk Indians,” Brown said, thanking them for their continued support.

That money will be put to good use, too. NERDS will create an annual scholarship for graduating seniors who are part of the program, and will be starting NERDS programs at other schools across the country.

Looking back on all of his work, Brown says he is excited about what the future will bring; Brown says he does have one regret.

“When I met the First Lady, I was going to ask her daughter Malia to the prom, but I chickened out.

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