High School Youth Meet with Rep Ellison at Clean Air Forum

47 high school and college youth turned out for the Clean Air Act Forum. All had traveled to Power Shift 2013 in October
47 high school and college youth turned out for the Clean Air Act Forum. All had traveled to Power Shift 2013 in October.
High school leaders from YEA! MN and EJAM worked together to prepare questions for Rep. Ellison and Reverand Yearwood Travon Williamson from Spark-Y takes the mic to share the youth call to urgency
Travon Williamson from Spark-Y takes the mic to share the youth call to urgency High school leaders from YEA! MN and EJAM worked together to prepare questions for Rep. Ellison and Reverand Yearwood

This fall the Will Steger Foundation brought 17 high school students to Power Shift 2013 through our Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN) program. A national youth climate conference that drew over 6,000 to Pittsburgh, PA, Power Shift 2013 was a historic convergence to “build a stronger and more vibrant climate movement to fight fracking, divest from fossil fuels, demand climate justice, and build a clean energy economy that works for everyone.” The conference had a heavy focus on environmental justice and the intersectionality of a variety of issues and problems in our society.

This way of thinking is how I come to this work. I believe in the importance of recognizing how different issues affect people, the disparities that exist, and the variety of opinions and experiences people have. When we recognize that we all do better when everyone has a place at the table we do better, our work can begin to take even bigger strides towards justice and a sustainable future for everyone. This is why I was excited to attend the Minnesotans United for Clean Air Forum hosted by US Representative Keith Ellison and a list of speakers ranging from polar explorer Will Steger to public health professionals to Javier Morillo of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

The Will Steger Foundation was approached by Representative Ellison’s Office to find a youth speaker for the Forum. Travon Williamson was the perfect student. A participant in Spark- Y Action Labs and a Senior at the Minnesota Internship Center, Travon spent the summer working at Unity Gardens in Minneapolis. He is the Chief Operating Officer of the garden, responsible for planning and building the aquaphonics systems and earning money for the program through his work. He joined our high school delegation to Power Shift 2013, through our partnership with Spark-Y, and has a keen understanding of the importance of healthy food systems and the interconnectedness that plays in climate change and social justice.

While I knew having a high school youth speak at the Forum was in itself an awesome opportunity, I always believe in getting the most out of opportunities given to us. I asked if we could have a meeting with US Representative Keith Ellison before the Forum, and his office came back and said yes, we could. We were thrilled to hear Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., from the Hip Hop Caucus, would join us as well.

The students used the knowledge that they had gained at Power Shift 2013 when deciding what questions to ask and what issues they wanted to bring up. They used the leadership and facilitation skills that they have been honing at YEA! MN Steering Committee meetings to prepare a series of direct and powerful questions for Representative Ellison and Reverend Yearwood. With 42 total people in the room (including students from the University of Minnesota), the high school students did an outstanding job facilitating the meeting.

Representative Ellison spoke about how he got involved in environmental issues, listing some of the same local issues that the students have been talking about and organizing around this year. Both he and Reverend Yearwood spoke about the importance of holding to ones beliefs. Both developed their beliefs and values when they were high school and college age students, the same closely held beliefs that compel them to take the actions they do today. Reverend Yearwood spoke about the overwhelming nature of climate change but closed with the following statement to our high school youth: “I know humanity has a chance, because it is sitting right in front of me.”

After three months in my role as YEA! MN Program Coordinator for the Will Steger Foundation, and seeing the passion and commitment from our YEA! MN youth, I can say with total sincerity, I agree with Reverend Yearwood.

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