Youth Rising for Environmental Justice

Jul 6, 2020 | BM4F Spotlights, Uncategorized, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

Many issues are impacting our world in ways we can’t imagine. The coronavirus and financial crisis have stopped and shaken the world, while millions of people are also fighting to stand up for equal rights and an equal way of life. Youth have seen and experienced these issues first hand and have decided to not wait on the “adults”, officials, or the “right person” to have a voice. Often, you are told to be quiet or “stay in a child’s place,” when it comes to social justice and politics. However, the youth of today have said “NO”. Youth organizing provides a way for youth to talk about what’s going on in their communities and determine ways to make change effectively. It also opens your eyes to the small things that can happen within our communities and play into a much bigger role. Youth organizing in environmental justice is extremely important. Not only does it affect us and our families’ health, but hurts our futures as well. Lead poisoning, climate change, and clean energy are three issues youth organizers are bringing awareness to and creating opportunities to support in their communities and abroad.

Often, you are told to be quiet or ‘stay in a child’s place’ when it comes to social justice and politics. However, the youth of today have said ‘NO’.

Lead Poisoning

In 2014, the predominantly black city of Flint, Michigan, found lead in their water due to government officials changing the water source for the city. City officials ignored the constant complaints of the residents and recommendations from medical professionals about the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Eventually, the water source was changed, but after 6 years, every resident in Flint still does not have clean water. Lead poisoning can cause many neurological problems that can occur, especially the developing brain of a child. The amount of Flint students that have needed special education services has doubled, as more students need to manage ADHD, dyslexia, irritability, and other issues that have affected their brains. These issues and many more, prompted young activists like Mari Copeny “Little Miss Flint”, to take action. Mari was engaged in marches and protests to bring awareness to the Flint Water Crisis. However, she did not feel that there was enough national attention. In 2016, Mari sent former President Barack Obama a letter requesting to meet him. Mari wanted the youth’s voices to be heard and their lives considered. On May 4, 2016, then-President Barack Obama visited the city of Flint, Michigan, bringing even more national attention to the issue. Mari continued to petition lawmakers, reporters and anyone she could meet to help fix the water in her city and bring awareness to lead poisoning nationwide. Mari has continued this work as residents still need bottled water, filters, and new pipes. Youth activist like Mari make a difference, especially speaking on behalf of all kids.

We want to grow up and have families in an Earth that has clean air and a sustainable environment.

Irsa Hirsi, Photographer: Colin Michael Simmons

Climate Change

Climate change is a big deal–not just in America but all over the world. Its also not just a problem that rich white people solve or an issue that doesn’t impact vulnerable communities in a major way. Climate change can cause natural disasters like storms, floods, and droughts to become worse. When more water vapor evaporates into the atmosphere, it becomes fuel for
storms to become more powerful. In lower-income communities, many people are not able to afford the damages caused by these natural disasters. There are still people suffering from hurricanes such as Katrina and Sandy, which happened many years ago. Climate change also impacts the daily lives of residents like myself in DC, and the issue is expected to get worse.
Climate change will impact the transit system for years to come. The tracks will become worn due to the heat caused by the atmosphere and trains, causing more delays and possible accidents if not well-maintained. As an East of the River [DC] resident, we rely a lot on the metro system to get to work and access food. We often cannot walk to work or have bikes to get to
school, especially if we go to school outside our wards as many students do. Some students like me were inspired by Mari’s work and similar youth founded the US Youth Climate Strike. Isra Hirsi, co-founded the U.S. part of this organization, which was originally started by Greta Thunberg in Sweden. Isra has inspired over a million students to become engaged in climate change. Students created rallies in cities all over the country to make sure the government does not forget about our future on this planet. We want to grow up and have families on an Earth that has clean air and a sustainable environment.

Clean Energy

Did you know black people are most likely to live in places with poor air quality? Did you know that low-income black neighborhoods are more vulnerable to asthma and other respiratory diseases caused by poor air quality? In DC, 12% of children suffer from asthma, as compared to
9% nationwide. As we talk about climate change, one crucial aspect is clean energy. Clean energy is the use of renewable resources to create energy, such as windmills and electrical power. The use of clean energy is important to our world and on a very basic human level, such as children suffering from asthma every day. Many cities have committed to 100% clean energy use over the next few years; however, the impacts are constantly impacting vulnerable communities.

Mari Copeny AKA “Little Miss Flint” (3rd from the right) featured with youth leaders from the Black Swan Academy 5 Year Anniversary 2019.

How Youth Are Making Power Moves

A group of students who attend the High School for Innovation in Advertising and Media in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, won NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge for their episode: Climate Change is Racial Injustice. This episode not only talked about how climate change impacts the youth of New York every day, but how other residents in other parts of the city don’t live like them. Minority neighborhoods often receive less investment when it comes to clean energy and other environmental sustainability needs. The students addressed the old school building where they attend school as they are concerned about lead in
the pipes, and they also brought awareness to the need for cleaner air in their neighborhoods.

In conclusion, the youth of today have a voice, and they are using it for change. It’s also going to take more of us becoming knowledgable and working. I hope, as an aspiring activist myself, to create more awareness, more action, and more change. Environmental racism is an issue that
affects many communities and social justice issues. I hope more officials and leaders pay attention to these concerns and our voices. I also hope they make a change.


Jamison Ford is a young activist and 8th-grade student in Washington, DC. She attends Jefferson Middle School, where she is a school leader, athlete, and tech ambassador.

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