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Kid of the Year Finalist Samirah Horton, 13, Puts Her Anti-Bullying Message to Music

4 minute read

From the age of 6, Samirah Horton, also known as DJ Annie Red, was picked on by her peers for the things that made her different—her raspier voice, her unique sense of style, and her unwavering confidence in herself. Rather than giving up, Horton decided to pick up a mic and make sure other children knew they weren’t alone. “I didn’t want other kids to go through that experience,” says Horton, “especially at a very young age.” Now, alongside attending eighth-grade classes, playing basketball with friends, and growing a large Lego collection, she’s also building an antibullying platform to reach students across the country.

For as long as Horton remembers, she’s felt a special connection to music. During a Zoom interview, she holds up a photo of herself mixing on a turntable as a 3-year-old. She remembers her mother always having the radio on, and her father teaching her how to DJ. These days, music fuels her mission. “It’s music that has allowed me to spread this important message,” she says.

Horton’s gigs draw inspiration from the broad range of classics her parents would play. Now when she’s playing a set at a school or as the Kid DJ for her hometown team, the Brooklyn Nets, you can expect to hear anything from the hip-hop classics of Lauryn Hill to one of her current favorites, Lil Nas X. In the mix are songs of her own, including antibullying anthem “No You Won’t Bully Me.”

Horton, also known as DJ Annie Red, encourages kids to find the confidence to be true to themselves.Courtesy Photo

Her message has reached beyond the DJ set. At 8, Horton turned one of her songs into The Bully Stop, a book that students, teachers and administrators could utilize during school hours. So far, it’s reached thousands of people across America. In the book she references the over 160,000 students who miss school daily for fear of being bullied. Horton, who identifies as Afro Latina, made sure to have the book available in Spanish for bilingual readers. She’s also met with at least 60 schools and after-school programs to spread her mission.

Like most teens, Horton’s also got a knack for social media. She recognizes that the online space can often be a home for cyberhate, but she’s chosen to leverage the reach of platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok to connect her music and motivational speaking with students from all over the world. “This message connects with everyone,” she says. “Different age groups, ethnicities, and backgrounds.”

Horton isn’t sure exactly what the future holds, but for now, she’s passionate about leading her school’s student government and playing sports. That could make a career as a politician or a sportscaster particularly exciting. “I don’t know exactly what I’ll be doing, but I know I’ll be making a positive impact on the world,” she says.

She’s already on her way, but her biggest achievement in her own eyes is convincing others to not doubt themselves along the way, “I don’t care what anybody tells you,” she says. “You are never too young to make a change.”

Read about more of the 2021 TIME Kid of the Year finalists here.

Watch the Kid of the Year broadcast special, hosted by Trevor Noah, on Nickelodeon on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at 7:30pm/6:30pm CT to find out which finalist will be named TIME Kid of the Year

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Write to Mariah Espada at mariah.espada@time.com