When Hannah was 7-years-old and living in Arizona, her dad gave her a book that described 100 ways to be more sustainable. She read it, along with The Big Book of Questions & Answers, filled with thousands of questions about the world and the answers to them.

Hannah’s family hosted big dinners with multicultural neighbors who’d become “Aunties” and “Uncles.” As their family of friends ate tamales, pasteles, Navajo dishes, or soul food, Hannah asked questions. She wondered why things were done the way they were. And when she didn’t like the answers, she’d come up with different solutions. Like that time in second grade, when she did a science experiment to build a solar oven and made lunch for her whole class to eat together.

Hannah Kinder solar oven newspaper clip

When she was 13 and Hannah’s family moved to Virginia, unlike her Arizona community where her neighbors were Black and Brown and from many different cultures, suddenly, all her neighbors and classmates were white. And it felt weird.

In her new high school, Hannah was accepted into a criminal justice program. Curious about the new culture in which she’d found herself, she researched history and laws around race, including emancipation, segregation, and the right to vote. Fascinated by equality and the lack thereof she saw in her surroundings, she dove into LGBTQ laws next.

In college, sparked by big questions around climate change, Hannah studied Evolutionary and Environmental Biology and Ecology. Through her research on pig farms, she learned about their degradation of the environment, the bay, and the people who lived there.

That’s when all of Hannah’s questions began to intersect. She saw that people affected by pig waste in their groundwater were usually people of color. She discovered that families and communities of color who suffered from resulting reproductive and respiratory issues usually didn’t have the resources to advocate for themselves.

Instead of separate issues, an unfair criminal justice system, environmental abuse, racism, and whiteness started to come together as less of coincidence and more like a system.

Hannah is a believer in signs. She knew that discovering these links was a sign, but she wasn’t sure what it meant yet.

Then one day in a glass fishbowl-like biology lab, Hannah’s college was put on active shooter lockdown. She and the other lab students pulled down the shades and huddled in the dark. Her mother texted, panicked because she saw it on the news. Hannah quickly responded and shut off the phone so it wouldn’t alert the shooter that people were in the lab. Noises echoed in the hallway. Hannah focused on breathing, all the while thinking, “I never thought it would happen to me.”

That day they survived, but a few years later, Hannah received another sign.

While teaching a high school class in December 2019, Hannah was helping a student at thier desk when her ears began to ring. She looked up and saw blood on the wall and all over a student. It felt like everything was moving in slow motion, and at the same time, triple speed. She called security and quickly ushered the students into the hallway. After asking what happened multiple times, the student covered in blood said his phone exploded. She pulled that student back into the classroom until security took over.

None of it made sense. In an adrenaline rush, Hannah cruised-controlled to her next class. Then security called her to their office and showed her video of the blood-covered student passing a gun to another student just before she pulled him back into the classroom.

Hannah Kinder at Student-led Climate Protest at University of Richmond

Hannah collapsed, sobbing. She didn’t stop for days.

Security and police investigated, but that gun was never found.

In a separate incident, about a month later, Hannah learned that another one of her students had been shot and killed. He was a Black teenager. A child victim of that intersecting system Hannah had discovered through her college research.

Now, when she thinks about signs and how they intersect, Hannah believes her curiosity about environmental, social, criminal, and racial justice were nudges to take action.

During the pandemic, as she worked through her own trauma, she realized that being involved in an active shooter lockdown and a classroom shooting were BILLBOARD-sized signs that Hannah Kinder needs to lead Virginians out of this cycle of systemic violence against people and the Earth.

Between working for the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition and running for office, Hannah still wonders what happened to the gun from the shooting in her classroom. Where did that gun end up?

Did it get thrown away? Sold? End up in the hands of another child?

Hannah may never find out, but she’s determined to make sure no one ever has to ask that question again.