Amplifying Youth Voices Through Engagement and Healing
The climate crisis is happening. That is a fact we no longer can deny. Across the United States and around the world, low-income and BIPOC communities have found themselves facing the effects of environmental degradation and climate change first and worst.
It’s a disparity that stems from cycles of institutional inequality – from a history of disenfranchising marginalized communities by leaving them out of the decision-making process. Without a voice, these communities continue to face environmental pollution and are more prone to infrastructural concerns related to natural disasters than many of their whiter or more-financially secure neighbors.
In environmental justice circles, the term “intergenerational justice” has been coined to affirm the responsibility of present generations to protect the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change for future generations. But to achieve this, we must amplify the voices of our youth.
In Michigan, One Love Global is doing just that, modeling how we can better support young people on their journeys to becoming better advocates for their communities and our planet.
Through its Freedom Summer Youth Organizing School, the organization offers an eight-week educational experience to engage Black and African American youth “in community organizing and long-term transformative change.” As implied by its name, the youth organizing school is a nod to the “freedom schools” that were started in Mississippi in 1964, which transformed people into active political organizers and voters, and played a vital role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To One Love Global, centering youth voices is central to its mission. The organization developed a youth design team to listen to young people and effectively curate a curriculum centered on what they are experiencing in the moment. To them, listening is the key to amplifying youth voices, and they believe in navigating them in the right direction – not taking over their efforts.
Karrington Kelsey, community outreach liaison for One Love Global, tells Climate Reality, “When it comes to centering youth specifically, they are the ones that will have to deal with the policy that we create.”
Many youth – especially those under 18 – lack political representation in a system that determines their livelihoods and futures. However, community organizing has no age restriction. Youth, regardless of how young they may be, can create impactful change in their communities by becoming more aware of the issues that matter most.
Young people also have an incredible imaginative capacity for brainstorming solutions facing their communities, says policy strategist Jordan Scrimger: “They are able to see the interconnections and the way that these issues intersect with one another, and they aren't stuck in sort of what adults think the answers to these problems always are.”
Throughout the eight-week in program, participants engage in two-to-three modules a week on the history of injustice, Black mobilization, and environmental injustice, and work on skills like civic engagement, organizing, and social entrepreneurship. For the duration of the program, the youth are introduced to the concepts under the Red, Black, and Green New Deal, according to Sarah Gettel, who serves as the director of capacity.
In addition to discussing these topics, the participants are asked to work on a creative project of their choice to demonstrate what they learned at Freedom Summer School.
In the past, these projects have included dialogue facilitation, short videos, and teach-ins. Participants in the Freedom School are also able to participate in community site visits in Detroit and Lansing – where they get to put their lessons into practice.
Students on the Detroit trip learned about food and land justice as well as how to grow their own food, while students who travelled to Lansing learned about crumbling infrastructure in the city and how a broken system of urban planning contributed to the existing geographic distribution in the city.
While each trip covered different topics, students learned how racism played a role in the current injustices that are affecting Black and Brown people in Michigan, says Scrimger.
“Especially in our metro region they are very segregated because of this legacy [of racist policy] and there are disparate resources that go to different communities. Being able to move around in the space and see different places and visit different sites and see community resources and understand what's there and be able to connect those things together and make meaning of them together, I think was really powerful.”
Like any other organization in the environmental justice space, One Love Global is facing challenges such as recognizing that learning about injustices can take an emotional toll on youth participants, especially when these injustices are currently being experienced by those very youth.
As a former educator, Kelsey mentions incorporating healing in lessons taught at the Freedom Summer School. For One Love Global, this means figuring out how its youth participants can center self-care and community healing in their activism as ways to avoid mental burnout.
Additionally, One Love Global claims that in order for its efforts to amplify youth voices to be successful, young people must be able to trust adults with not only their actions but also their intentions. Kelsey says that it is crucial for adult allies to see young people not only as activists for their communities, but also as full humans with a range of emotions that bring them into this kind of work.
“There’s a saying that goes ‘real recognizes real’ and students will call you out if you’re not being authentic,” he mentions.
One Love Global’s programming not only offers students organizing skills, but also provides the historical contexts behind injustice and how these relate to the movement for environmental and climate justice, according to Scrimger.
“Our government hasn't always conceived of the people, including Black youth, and it hasn't always served people equally in the policy that it makes. So, thinking about adding in components that are maybe traditionally forgotten by the climate justice and environmental justice movement is really important.”
The application for our 2022 Climate Justice for All grants program is now open. If you’re part of an environmental justice organization working with frontline communities in the US, maybe we can help. Our Climate Justice for All program offers up to $20,000 in support, together with professional input and assistance from our team at Climate Reality. The grant period runs from May to December of this year.
Learn more and apply by March 7, 2022, at http://www.climaterealityproject.org/apply/grant.