By Jeff Friedrich
For Youth Organizer Misra Walker, 18, being “street smart” is all about knowing what’s going on in your community, and she says that her own savy has everything to do with sludge.
Walker grew up in Hunts Point, where residents struggled for years to clean up the New York Organic Fertilizer Company, a site that produced noxious fumes from processing the city’s sewer waste into fertilizer pellets. She saw an unfairness in the way environmental impacts were effecting the health of her community, which is in one of the poorest congressional districts in the country. Now, Walker worries that global warming will effect her neighborhood more than others.”I see climate justice as equality of neighborhoods,” Walker said.
Last weekend, at the Urban Assembly for Green Careers High School in Manhattan, around 200 youth shared stories of how environmental degradation has disproportionately impacted their neighborhoods and their generation. Hosted by UPROSE, a social service organization campaigning for sustainable development in southwest Brooklyn, the attendees of Climate Justice Youth Summit: “Our People, Our Hoods,” began a conversation about preparing their neighborhoods for the impacts of climate change.
The conference balanced education with planning. Sessions like “Environmental Justice 101” and pamphlets explaining the rudiments of climate change theory helped introduce youth to the political theory and science underpinning the discussion, while sessions like “What do green jobs mean for us as people of color” and “Building an intergenerational approach to organizing” were strategy sessions aimed at empowering the youth voice in discussions of environmental issues that are effecting low income and people of color communities.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, UPROSE executive director, said, “This was not just an opportunity for young people to come and listen to people, this was an opportunity for them to come see what the organizations are doing, and for them to go there and address environmental remediation in their neighborhoods.”
Getting youth involved in environmental organizing now, said Yeampierre, was an important step to “adapting to climate change and building community resiliency, which we define as a community’s ability to bounce back.” In addition to the Youth Summit, UPROSE has begun facilitating workshops on how a variety of other populations will adapt to climate change — including seniors, first responders, churches and businesses.
Walker thinks youth are only beginning to get involved in climate issues. “This was the first annual youth summit, the first chance for young people who face the same problems of environmental injustice or racism to gather, and it will keep growing — it definitely will.”