Young, Gifted & Green at Power Shift Convergence 2023

Apr 22, 2023 | BM4F Spotlights, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

Power Shift Convergence 2023 was held in Bvlbancha, also known as New Orleans, Louisiana. The significance of hosting the conference in Bvlbancha is to highlight the Gulf Coast and the struggles the South is facing when it comes to climate change and climate and environmental justice. I spent 3 days surrounded by like-minded young folx in the climate and environmental justice movement. We know that it is up to us, Gen Z, to continue the fight that our elders started so we can have a just and sustainable environment for all people. 

The first workshop I attended was hosted by Ruth Oviedo Hollands, a climate activist. Her session was titled, “Demanding Accountability in Climate Justice: How the US is Failing Us in their NDCs.” I learned what an NDC was, nationally determined contributions are climate pledges a country makes to combat the climate crisis. The last published NDC from the US primarily focused on emissions yet the US emitted 5.01 billion tons of CO2 in 2021, 13.5% of total global CO2 emissions.

The final workshop I attended on day 1 was “Culture is Power: Empowering BIPOC Voices in the Environmental Justice Movement,” hosted by Juliana Ojeda Jasmine, Program Associate at Green 2.0, Jasmine Guevara, Report Card Data Lead at Green 2.0, and Jeannine Kayembe Oro, Program Manager at the Center for Cultural Power. In this session, I learned how important it is for Black and Brown people to tell their stories their way about climate and environmental injustice that plague our communities. Black and Brown communities are impacted the most when it comes to climate disasters and environmental racism, so we should be able to tell our stories in any way we choose to express them.

The closing of day 1 concluded with a panel with Christian Smalls, the Founder and President of the Amazon Labor Union, Sikowis (Christine Nobiss), Founder and Executive Director of Great Plains Action Society, Imani Barbarin, Disability Rights and Inclusion Activist and Speaker, and Amber Starks, Advocate, Organizer, Cultural Critic, Decolonial Theorist, and Abolitionist. Their words summed up: BURN THIS SH-T DOWN! Black and Brown folx will not be taken seriously about their rights to a clean and just environment until we make these white, cis, hetero, capitalist pockets hurt.

The second day of the conference began with the host Omi of the Dunbar Creek Collective. Their workshop was titled, “Internal Displacement: Mapping the Geography of Black Grief.” This was a Black person-only workshop to discuss Black people’s internal displacement throughout the diaspora. We specifically focused on the diaspora’s constant state of grief through the forced migration on the land we hold space on. Black people’s grief has no space for their grief to go and that causes a loss of space. We all [attendees] agreed on what grief, spatiality, and internally displaced person meant to us. We ended the session in breakout groups remembering a time when our and our family’s relationship with the land was disrupted and I shared my experience with the Flint Water Crisis.

The next workshop I attended was “Our Story of Water: Black Maritime Black History,” hosted by Danni Washington of Big Blue & You and Sea Youth Rise Up and Dafina Matiku of Ocean Conservancy. In this session, we discussed Black people and their relationship to the ocean. It started with the history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and how our ancestors used to jump from the ships to swim back to the shore. Our ancestors were phenomenal swimmers, but after being forced to come to the Americas, their relationship to the water became sacred. From racists pouring acid into community pools to Black people not knowing how to swim, a lifesaving skill. We took a poll in the session to see how many people knew how to swim and only a couple of hands (including mine) were Black or Brown. What I took away from this session was encouraging more Black and Brown folx to take swimming lessons and to be around the water more. The water can be scary with the unknown lurking, but it can be a peaceful, restful, and empowering experience.

The last session I attended was “Uniting the U.S Youth Climate Network: Creating a Policy Spokes Council.” The workshop was to help the hosts recruit more young people for the council. The council is to unite and organize the young people in the climate movement.

The third and final day of the conference started with a panel discussion hosted by Wawa Gatheru with Nakisa Glover, Founder and Co-Executive Director of Sol Nation, Felicia M. Davis, Co-Founder of the HBCU Green Fund, and Amber Starks. This panel was focused on the elders in the movement giving us young folx inspiring and encouraging words to keep up what they have started for us. There was a panelist with problematic views regarding pronouns, but that was cleared by Akwaeke Emezi, Multidisciplinary Artist and Writer. Other than that, the advice the panelists provided gave me life!

My final workshop was “People Power Tools,” hosted by Erica Jackson of FracTracker Alliance and Sanjana Paul of Earth Hacks. This session taught us attendees how to use maps to track and map environmental issues in our communities. 

We did have breakouts at the end of the conference based on geographic locations. Being from the Midwest, that is the session I chose to attend. There were about four Black and Brown folx in the session. I felt like we were overshadowed, and our voices were not heard. This has inspired me to make sure that more young Black and Brown folx voice from the Midwest when it comes to climate and environmental justice are at the forefront since we are the most impacted by climate change and environmental racism. I am also encouraging more young Black and Brown folx to attend the conference next year to amplify the movement.

I am so grateful to my organization for sponsoring me to attend Power Shift Convergence 2023. I met so many young activists who are fighting the good fight like me in their communities. I had amazing and inspiring speakers who encouraged me to apply to be a workshop speaker next year. Attending Power Shift reminded me that it takes all generations to pour into each other to help fight climate change.

About the Author

Dionna Brown is a former intern and current National Director, Youth EJ Griots, a proud graduate of Howard University, and current graduate student at Wayne State University. Follow Dionna on Instagram TikTok, and Twitter @dionnalatrice_.

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