Using My Words

2015-2016 Rising Voices Fellow Abby Richmond selling her first self-published book, "Very Berry."

My world completely changed when I learned how to read in first grade. From that time forward, I brought books with me everywhere I went. As a shy girl who rarely had the courage to speak her mind, I learned to make friends with characters in cozy novels. Classics, especially, were my thing. My love for Jo March and Elizabeth Bennett was (and remains) boundless.

As I grew older, I learned that I had the power to do more than read. I realized that I had the ability to use my voice, so often quieted by my timid personality, to create whatever characters I wanted. Since I loved fiction, I delved headfirst into writing my own creative stories. The highlight of my second grade year was when I finally finished my painstakingly-handwritten tale about two princesses and a ferocious dragon. I didn’t only use my writing for my confusing fairy tales, though. I also wrote many, many letters. I wrote letters to my favorite authors, praising their books in ungrammatical sentences. I wrote long hand-written letters to my camp friends—in our pre-iMessage days, of course. And increasingly I found myself writing letters when something bothered me—my eight-year-old self even wrote a letter to my state representative begging for legislation to improve conditions in animal shelters (I’m pretty sure I wrote that one after watching the movie Hotel for Dogs).

In fourth grade, I decided to take the next step with my writing. As I’ve discussed in some of my previous Rising Voices blog posts, I grew up in a climate in which social justice was fully integrated, and in which activism was widely encouraged in my home and school. When I was in fourth grade, I found a way to combine my love for writing with my growing interest in activism and social justice. After some planning with my parents, I set a goal for myself to write a book of fiction, self-publish it, and sell copies to friends and family to raise money for a non-profit organization.

Months later, I was all set. Entitled “Very Berry,” my first book revolved around the life of a ten-year-old girl, her friends, her dog, and the school bully. Yes, my plot was rudimentary, but I was proud to have written almost 100 pages (admittedly in large font). I was excited to donate my proceeds to the organization Reading is Fundamental, but what I was undeniably most excited about was letting my voice be heard. I proceeded to write three more books in the five years that followed. These books were the vehicles that enabled me to raise money for causes I care deeply about—literacy, the environment, music, and education for girls, among other important issues.

By the beginning of high school, though, something felt different. I had grown up from the meek girl who would bury herself in books, and I began to feel more confident in formulating and expressing opinions about things going on around me—politics, current events, feminism, and other important topics. I realized that while I still enjoyed writing fiction, my writing style was evolving. I began to understand that I could use my passion for writing to express my opinions, and to be part of the developing conversation about significant current topics.

Then along came Rising Voices, which has truly allowed me to build on my writing skills and engage in critical thinking about these big topics. The fellowship allowed me to use my voice while also reading the inspirational words of eleven other amazing young women. Even more than this, the fellowship has allowed me to feel like I’m making a difference. Okay, so maybe I don’t have millions of readers or anything, but I’ve loved the feeling of putting my words out there and having some impact on the world, however small that impact may be.

The experience I’ve gained from Rising Voices has given me the confidence to keep writing to effect change. Now, I’m working on a website called I’ve always been a huge Hillary Clinton fan (I even wrote a slightly controversial post for RVF about her in March!) and I realized recently that I can use my voice to try to help her in this election. My goal is for Teens4Hillary to create an outlet for teenage Hillary supporters to unite while expressing their views through writing. Even though my friends and I can’t vote yet, we can use our words to put our opinions out there, and to play a role in the future of this country as much as we can.

So that, really, is why I write: to share my opinions, to participate in important conversations, and to support causes that I care about. As I have grown out of being the shy girl with her nose in a book, I’ve become more confident about expressing myself, even when others might not agree with me. Despite the fact that I can’t vote yet, and even though I can’t exactly be a philanthropist on my babysitting earnings, I still feel that, by harnessing the power of the written word, I can have an impact.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Richmond, Abby. "Using My Words." 8 June 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 10, 2020) <>.

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