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Nicki Escudero | Photo: Julie Soefer | November 8, 2013
Political science student Annica Benning is supporting education and promoting cultural awareness throughout Arizona—and beyond.
Some 12-year-olds stress out about junior high school crushes and beg their parents to take them to the mall, but at that age, Arizonan Annica Benning began writing a book dedicated to her state’s rich cultural history. “We lived next to the Salt River tribe, and I remember driving through one day and asking my dad all these questions,” says Benning, now 19 and a political science student at Arizona State University.
After two years of traveling around Arizona, meeting tribe members, taking photos and writing, Benning sent a manuscript to educators, museum curators and members of the Navajo, Hopi, Gila River and Fort McDowell tribes for review. With some help from her parents, she founded the nonprofit Walnut Canyon Press (annicabenning.com) to publish the 48-page book and maintain a hand in distribution. The ink on the first copies of Arizona: Nations and Art dried in 2009 and to date, nearly 300,000 copies have been distributed to fourth-graders throughout Arizona.
The nonprofit has received financial support from Wells Fargo, McDonald’s and the Lovena Ohl Foundation, and Benning continues to update and distribute the book annually. In 2012, the U.S. Department of State installed her book in cultural facilities managed by U.S. embassies all around the world.
So what’s next? Benning—also a U.S. Goodwill Ambassador designee, featured Mensa speaker and TEDxKids@Phoenix presenter—says she plans to continue to raise awareness about education and Arizona’s Native American cultures. “I think having kids understand about Native American art and culture is really important,” she says. “This is in our backyard.”
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