Back in June, the YEA!MN steering committee and I took our year-end retreat to the Lake Country Land School in Wisconsin. We came up with lots of big plans for our projects during the 2014-2015 school year, one of which was the Youth Climate Action Now! (Youth CAN!) conference. At the time, it was hard to picture what the event would look like and how we would go about making it happen. But many hours of hard work by the planning committee payed off, culminating in an empowering conference on November 8th that exceeded all of our expectations.
We organized Youth CAN! because we felt that in the Twin Cities, high schoolers needed a space to learn about climate justice, climate change, and community organizing from their peers. It was important for Youth CAN! to be student-organized because it created an environment that allowed students to be themselves and show their true interests and passions. Because Youth CAN! was designed by students, for students, it let the people who attended be their intelligent, engaged selves.
The week leading up to Youth CAN! was filled with nervous anticipation. Would people show up? Would they like it? We finished all the last minute planning–finalizing the program design, calling all the students signed up to confirm that they were coming, buying snacks–and went to El Colegio Charter School on Friday night to set up for the next day. The moment I walked in the doors I could feel myself getting excited. The school is beautiful and was a perfect space for our event. We brought in all the snacks and signs, set up the rooms for the workshops, and prepared the theater for keynote speakers polar explorer Will Steger, environmental justice champion Kim Wasserman, and Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano.
The next morning I was blown away with the rush of people filling El Colegio. The feeling was incredible, seeing something that we had worked on for so long finally taking place. By the time Kim Wasserman took the stage around 10:30, the theater was filled with over 160 students from 20 different high schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin, overflowing the chairs and spread out on the floor.
The day was filled with workshops covering a broad range of social and environmental justice issues. The first one I went to was called Systematic Change Strategies, led by students from the Young People’s Action Coalition. It was awesome to see people close to my own age give a presentation that was clearly so well prepared, yet seemed like an open conversation with the group, something which I think is vital to giving an effective presentation. The workshop also opened my eyes to how many different issues tie into climate change and environmental justice and how by finding the roots of these problems, we can take steps to solve them.
It was amazing to see so many young people like me who are also passionate about the environment; enough so to spend a whole day at Youth CAN! just because they want to. Because of them, I walked away from the day with a new hope and optimism for our future, as well as many ideas for new projects I can start both at home and in my school green team. I’m excited to continue my work with my Green Team and YEA! MN to continue building the relationships, skills, and solutions we fostered at Youth CAN!