By Brandon J. Galloway November 15, 2017

“I MUST Create a System, or be enslav’d by another Man’s; I will not Reason and Compare: my business is to Create.” – William Blake

Last month, at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, I had the opportunity to discuss the issues that are most important to me with peers, elected officials and leaders in the environmental and social justice movements. Over four days, I listened to and spoke with distinguished leaders and role models – members of Congress, corporate leaders, nonprofit experts and others – who shared, among other things, their knowledge on policy solutions to challenges that are impact African Americans. I was blessed to be accompanied by one of my mentors, and the advisor to The Environmental Action Club (EAC), Dr. Florence Anoruo. Her guidance and nurturing spirit has enabled my vision, passion, and desire to not only lead the change I wish to see, but to also pursue it.

I joined Senator Cory Booker, New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake and Mustafa Ali of the Hip Hop Caucus for a conversation on the challenges frontline communities face with a White House that has turned a blind eye toward protecting communities – and people – disproportionately impacted by climate change, pollution and other environmental degradation. Our discussion encapsulated a common theme: that it is more important than ever to raise our voices, build coalitions, educate ourselves, vote and continue to stay involved in our communities so that our elected leaders are on notice that we expect them to make the right decisions to protect our future.

My journey to our nation’s capital was years in the making. It was after my first year at South Carolina State University, a historically black college, that I realized I had the God-given ability to help others see that they can make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others. This ability would be cultivated through servant leadership as the founding president of EAC, chartered to provide emerging student leaders with opportunities to #MakeADifference on the campus, in the community, and within themselves through social engagement.

The election of Donald Trump and the subsequent attacks by the administration against the environment and public health are a reminder about the real dangers we face as people of color.  Young people across the country and on college campuses are speaking out now more than ever. At the People’s Climate March in April, I along with students from 15 historically black colleges and universities marched with tens of thousands of our fellow citizens from all walks of life in the streets of Washington to demand that our leaders stand up for our future. It was an inspiring experience, to say the least, and I left wanting to do more for my community.

Defend Our Future is committed bringing young people together to find solutions to these important issues. In June, I participated in Defend Our Future’s National Climate Leadership Summit, where I joined 120 student leaders who, along with thousands of others on campuses across the country, are leading the movement for climate action. We shared ideas, honed our leadership skills and committed ourselves to continue fighting for one of the most important causes of our lifetime. We represented a cross-section of political views, but we understood that finding common ground and raising our voices would be key to moving beyond the partisan gridlock to find solutions that will benefit all Americans.

Whether it’s in the classroom or in the halls of Congress, it’s up to us to raise our voices, to show our leaders that we know what’s at stake – our future. I encourage you to be a part of the solution. Get involved in local politics. Learn about the issues that affect your community – and seek out solutions that are beneficial to others. Attend town halls, write letters to the editor and contact your representatives to make your voice heard. Together, we can defend our future.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” – Matthew 9:38

Brandon J. Galloway is a junior at South Carolina State University, double majoring in Civil Engineering Technology and Professional Land Surveying with a declared minor in Environmental Science. He was recently recognized as a Congressional Honoree for Civic and Community Engagement.