Young, Gifted & Green: The Future of Flint Youth EJ Leaders

Sep 28, 2023 | BM4F Spotlights, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

The second annual Young, Gifted & Green Summer Camp with our Flint partner, Flint Public Health Youth Academy was a major success! This year’s theme was violence, specifically focusing on gun violence and environmental violence. The environmental violence we focused on was water quality, lead exposure, beauty justice, climate change, gentrification, and public policy. We also went in depth about the origins of the environmental justice movement from the Sanitation Workers Strike in Memphis, TN to the Protests in Warren County, NC. The 18 youth leaders enrolled this summer were able to learn about the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice and the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.

The environmental violence of water quality included pollution of our waterways and drinking water. We explained the role of the Industrial Revolution in Flint’s polluted water. Ironically enough, a water-boil adversity was issued a couple of days before the camp started. The violence of lead exposure was explained through the Flint Water Crisis, where all of the youth were in early elementary school. They learned about the effects of lead in the body, how lead can be in our homes, and that no amount of lead level is safe.

The environmental violence of beauty justice included the youth learning about harmful chemicals that are found in our everyday hygiene and beauty products. The students learned that stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar contain products with harmful chemicals. They also learned why these stores are prevalent in their communities rather than other communities. Despite learning about these discrepancies, they were eager to learn about good chemicals and make their own healthy and chemical-free hygiene products. We bought in a local Black female business owner, La’Asia Johnson, the owner of Elle Jae Essentials, for a ‘Whip ‘n Sip’ experience with the youth. We were able to create our own shea butter and body scrubs with good chemicals.

The lesson on climate change and the climate crisis was the most interesting to the youth. We were able to dive deep about how the climate crisis came about and what we can do to help fight it. The best moment of the session was when we gave recommendations for the youth to reduce their carbon footprint, we had to reiterate not to unplug any appliance without their parents’ permission. They were most interested in why the government was not doing anything to protect us in the climate crisis. The students created posters for a climate protest after learning about youth climate activists. This coincided with the lesson of gentrification and public policy.

The violence of gentrification and redlining was explained through a public policy lens. We discussed the history of gentrification and redlining, as well as the effects and resistance in some communities. We looked at the city of Washington, DC. We also looked at how Flint has changed over the past years. They were to identify the process of gentrification and redlining in the city. The students also were able to identify a few public policy problems in the city and give recommendations and solutions to the issues. The last activity we did for this session was to use the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) EJ Screening Tool to look at how gentrification and redlining affected the cities of Flint and Washington, DC. They identified the issues in the cities and what we could do as youth to improve our city.

Our Youth EJ Council Member, Nevaeh Dixon (13), said that her experience at the summer camp this year was fun. She was able to meet a lot of new people and learn new things that she was not able to learn last year. She got to help students who weren’t at the camp last year as she was an intern for the camp. She quickly became a mentor to the youth. I share the same sentiments as meeting new Flint youth as well as teaching them about their environment was both fun and inspiring. The best part was the engaging questions and their recommendations for different problems in our community and country. I loved that they enjoyed making protest posters about the climate crisis, which is what I am most passionate about. Training the next generation of activists is a life-changing experience and a privilege.

The Youth EJ Council had the opportunity to write an abstract for the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice’s 9th Annual HBCU Climate Change Conference this year. After our learning session regarding the Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST), our youth explored the historical impact of redlining in Flint and compared house and health variables to the suburban city, of Grand Blanc. We chose to compare the two cities based on Flint being labeled “disadvantaged” and Grand Blanc not. Another reason we chose the two cities is that last year’s summer camp project was a photovoice about the proposed (now permitted) AJAX facility on the Northside of Flint. The CEJST helped us visualize social and environmental injustices and evaluate “historic underinvestment,” accounting for the impact of practices, like redlining.

Youth EJ Council Member, Isaiah Grays (17), said that loved contributing his knowledge to the abstract. He said that co-writing the abstract helped him gain the knowledge of writing an abstract and researching. He will use this knowledge while he is in college to write his research papers and apply to conferences. Although we were not accepted to present our research at the HBCU Climate Change Conference, this project was a learning experience for all three Council Members.

The Youth EJ Council also had the opportunity to have a meeting with Dr. Natasha DeJarnett, the White House Council on Environmental Quality Deputy Director for Environmental Justice Data and Evaluation, about the CEJST. During the meeting, Dr. DeJarnett went over the basics of the CJEST and how it came about from the Justice40 Initiative. We also spoke about the Executive Orders that President Biden signed into effect regarding environmental justice and the climate crisis. She demonstrated how to use the mapping tool, and she asked for our suggestions to improve the tool. Some of the suggestions included adding key breakdowns for youth and adolescents as well as school and child development center locations, and playground access – all of which are key indicators for vulnerable subpopulations.

Youth EJ Council Member, Kayla Shannon (22), said that the meeting with Dr. DeJarnett was inspiring and motivating. She loved seeing a Black woman be the lead for a mapping tool that can help communities like Flint gain economic and environmental justice. As she is in her senior year at Spelman College, this gave her a new perspective on her career path.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *