Raising Climate Activists
Defend Our Future was proud to partner with local Colorado organizations to put on the Youth Unity Rising Summit last month. This annual summit is a student-driven and community-led event to empower young people to become lifelong engaged environmental, social justice, and health advocates. I, Defend Our Future’s Colorado organizer, worked alongside Giselle Arroyo, the community outreach coordinator at Colorado Rising to create a space for students to come together and learn from each other and other leaders in the community. The summit focused on the intersections of health, climate, and advocacy to inspire youth to engage in meaningful community action.
The planning team and I welcomed students with a resource fair where they could meet local organizations and learn how to be a part of environmental stewardship efforts in their community. Many high school students were excited to engage with Defend Our Future and learn about our presence on college campuses as they themselves plan their next steps.
Celebrating Impactful youth
The feature event of the day was a panel discussion with student organizers from Denver Public Schools for Climate Action who were awarded the EPA’s President’s Environmental Youth Award in August. The panel, all high school students themselves, shared their personal advocacy strategies and their reasons for choosing to speak up through climate advocacy. Their dedication to implementing positive change in their schools and communities and centering intersectionality as they do it was empowering for students, organizers and myself to hear.
“We are inspired to see so many young people show up today who are waking up and taking action to be the hope of the future,” – DPS for Climate Action
To share even more incredible work by student activists, the summit screened “Elevating Voices”. Elevating Voices is a student-made documentary about the importance of highlighting diverse and marginalized voices in conservation spaces and how it is critical to see ourselves as connected to nature.
Finding healing in advocacy
Later in the day, Aracely Navarro with Groundwork Denver and I also hosted a workshop in the health and wellness track to discuss eco-anxiety and how to find healing through connection to the Earth. Given that most, if not all, young people experience eco-anxiety daily, destigmatizing these feelings is important for organizations like Defend Our Future so we can better support our network of young activists and ambassadors.
I talked students through how to work through feelings of hopelessness by using collective action as a vehicle to find community and optimism. I finished by stressed how connecting to nature can help facilitate this healing process. To drive the importance of healing and nature home, Aracely led the group through limpia mindful meditation. Limpia is an indigenous practice that uses plants to cleanse the mind, body, and soul of negativity. The room felt lighter through the collective intentionality as students left with their own plants from the Denver Botanic Gardens and our healing food bags from Spirit of the Sun, a local indigenous advocacy group.
Looking to the future
My soul was nourished by the optimism of the day. Walking out of the summit, there were only positive remarks from students and every organizer was impressed by the dedicated youth leaders and fantastic workshop hosts. As a community organizer, it was fulfilling to be in a space that provided young advocates with resources and connections to find hope, resiliency and healing.
“You have a voice, you are a leader, and you are important,” – Amelia Fernandez, Co-president of the Denver Public Schools for Climate Action
There were so many young students already pursuing change in their schools and communities, and even more who wanted to start! Events like this summit demonstrate why it is so important for local businesses, organizations and governments to engage young people on issues. Young people are the future of our communities, and we need their voices and expertise to be part of climate solutions now more than ever.