Earth Island News
Brower Youth Awards
On September 30, seven incredible young activists received a 2005 Brower Youth Award, the most prestigious award in the US for leaders of tomorrow's environmental and social justice movements.
Each recipient was presented a $3,000 prize by ceremony hosts Julia Butterfly Hill and social justice attorney and advocate Van Jones, founder and director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
"The Brower Youth Awards give voice and resources to an optimistic, energized, and fearless group of young people," says program director Jason Salfi. "We hope to help motivate them to continue doing what they're doing."
Zander Srodes, 15, Placidia, Florida
When Srodes is not sailing or golfing in his hometown of Placidia, Florida, he is working to save loggerhead sea turtles from extinction. These turtles have been listed as threatened since 1978, and because Florida beaches account for one third of the world's total population of loggerheads, their ability to thrive there is crucial. Zander speaks to K-6 students about what they can do to help protect these ancient-looking reptiles, which can weigh up to 350 pounds. Wearing a homemade sea turtle costume, Srodes urges the kids to clean up after themselves on the beach so that the turtles don't end up eating their trash or getting caught in beach furniture, showing photos to prove this can happen. Srodes recently made an illustrated activity book to hand out during his presentations, and he has already had requests for over 1,000 copies.
Andrea Garza, 21, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Garza was only 13 years old when she founded Esperanza Unida, a group focusing on social and environmental justice issues in Brownsville, Texas, where she grew up. The group began its political activism by protesting a proposed nuclear waste facility in the state, which was defeated after much lobbying and vocal opposition by several groups. Esperanza Unida then shifted its focus to making presentations in schools, and educating students about their Aztec roots, culture, and traditions. While Esperanza Unida is continuing in Brownsville, Andrea has moved to Albuquerque, where she is a community organizer for Young Women United, a group started by and servicing young women of color. This year Andrea and her fellow female students successfully lobbied their school board to allow comprehensive sex education in schools, rather than abstinence-only, to decrease teen pregnancies and drop-out rates. "As a woman of color, it's really empowering for me to come here every day," says Andrea. "Being an outlet and a mentor for these young women is my passion and what keeps me going."
La Constance Shahid, 18, San Francisco, California
Shahid is a breath of fresh air in her inner-city San Francisco neighborhood of Bayview-Hunter's Point. Her work to restore the adjacent Yosemite Wetlands (named after Yosemite Street, not the national park) helps to improve the local air and water quality. She is an active member of the Plants Gone Wild Native Plant Nursery Project, whose goal is to combat the destructive effects of industrialization and landfills on native wetlands. Shahid also works to get young people in the community involved by putting up posters and speaking at youth groups. So far she and her peers have repaired the community garden at Candlestick Point Recreation Area, built a 1,200-square-foot shade house to host native California seedlings, and created a strong community of youth activists who care about community stewardship. Their goal is to grow 10,000 plants needed for the Yosemite Wetlands Restoration Project.
Daniel Rosen, 19, Flagstaff, Arizona
In 2003 Rosen traveled to the Navajo Reservation in Pinon, Arizona to attend the "Healing and Redefining Our World Youth Summit." The summit was a gathering of people who all strongly believed in the power of community-based action to impact environmental and social injustices. It was this experience that inspired Daniel to help organize the "All Peoples Power Summit: Building Communities of Hope, Strength and Sustainability," which attracted nearly 200 young people from around the globe. Daniel then founded the Youth Movement in Northern Arizona to implement the ideas that came from the summit. The Youth Farming and Fresh Produce Initiative is working to create a bio-regional farming network on the Navajo and Hopi reservations to provide healthy foods to local communities, and the Art of Revolution project finds spaces for young people to express themselves through mural painting, graffiti, and spoken word. Rosen continues to organize summits at Northern Arizona University. "We are essentially firefighters putting out one bad policy after another," he says. "These gatherings allow us to have a perspective of where we are in the battle and where we need to be going."
Jessica Rimington, 19, Cotuit, Massachusetts
Last year, Rimington visited South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Morocco, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Costa Rica, and Mexico to create a path toward better communication between the young people in these countries and the United States. Taking a year off between high school and Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, where she will start as a freshman this fall, she launched the One World Youth Project to promote cultural exchange, youth leadership, and community service around the world. The students, each paired with a school from another country, start out by learning about each other's culture, and then work together on a community service project inspired by the UN Millennium Development Goals. There are now 36 schools in 16 countries participating in the program. Teachers are provided with a year-long curriculum to facilitate the exchange. "As young people we are not just the future, we are the present," says Jessica. "If we want to change the world we not only have to take action ourselves, but also inspire others to do the same."
Erika Chase and Kayla Carpenter, 17,Hoopa, California
Friends since the fourth grade, Chase (left) and Carpenter (right) have always been active in their hometown of 4,000 people. They recently organized the third Salmon Run Relay to raise awareness about the plight of the nearby rivers and the fish populations that depend on them. According to Chase and Carpenter, more and more water from the Klamath and Trinity rivers is being used to water strawberries, barley, and other crops that require dams and heavy irrigation. As a result water levels are low, and the salmon, sturgeon, and trout populations are rapidly dwindling. "If the river isn't healthy for the salmon, it's not going to be healthy for us," says Carpenter. In addition to raising awareness about the rivers, the Salmon Run Relay also educates the community about their native diet and culture by holding a salmon ceremony based on the ancient rituals of the Yurok, Hupa, and Karuk Indian tribes.