Save the Date! Join us for the 13th Annual Brower Youth Awards on October 23 at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco. To reserve your free seat, follow this link; or to purchase tickets for the VIP reception where you can meet the winners, follow this one.
Each year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young activists ages 13 to 22 from North America for their exceptional efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice. We’re thrilled to announce the recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards. The 2012 winners are:
Lead pollution is a serious problem in many home yards and public spaces in Worcester’s inner-city neighborhoods. Motivated by this knowledge, in 2009 Needle joined the Toxic Soil Busters, a youth-run cooperative that offers residents soil testing, remediation, and lead-free landscaping services. He was only 13 then, but already well versed in environmental justice issues. Needle now leads the cooperative’s remediation efforts. His team has restored more than 40 lead-contaminated yards in his neighborhood. Needle also organizes events and workshops in community spaces during which he talks to residents about the hazards associated with lead pollution and promotes youth leadership on environmental issues.
Growing up in Detroit, Brittany Stallworth and members of her family had limited access to healthy food and exposure to toxic emissions from nearby car factories. Driven by her own experience with environmental injustice, Stallworth founded “Green is the New Black” – a food and environmental justice campaign at Howard University. As part of the campaign, Stallworth organized on-campus workshops for students led by experts in food, health, and environmental issues. She also helped organize a symposium attended by more than 35 green organizations that offered internship and job opportunities to the college students. The passion Stallworth brings to this cause has inspired others to take action in improving food accessibility and environmental justice in underprivileged communities.
Straddling the Idaho-Montana border, the 88,000-acre Scotchman Peaks Roadless Area is one of the largest remaining wild areas in the region. In the five northern counties of the Idaho Panhandle there are no designated wilderness areas, and the Kootenai National Forest in which Scotchman Peaks is located has the smallest percentage of wilderness (4 percent) of any national forest in Montana. Inspired by the “soaring proud pines, migratory moose herds, and pristine air” of the region, Jacob Glass produced En Plein Air, a film that documents the efforts of Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness, a grassroots group formed in 2005, to get federal wilderness protection for the region. The documentary focuses on two painters who use their artwork to convey their appreciation for the mountains. En Plein Air received nationwide attention and increased Friends of Scotchman Peaks’ membership. The surge of public support for the wilderness designation led to endorsements from many area chambers of commerce and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
In the semi-arid San Joaquin Valley of California, UC Merced student Martin Figueroa has been the driving force in a campus movement to reduce water use and improve energy efficiency. In 2011, Figueroa recruited more than 600 students to participate in the “UC Merced Water Battle” – a month-long water saving competition between residence halls. To track water usage Figueroa utilized real-time water monitoring technology and enlisted engineering students to help track the data. Participating students reduced their water use by 14 percent, saving 89,000 gallons of water. Figueroa is now reaching out to other UC campuses and asking them to hold their own “Water Battles.”
For Maya Salsedo, the personal is political. Salsedo is the descendent of emmigrants from Puerto Rico who moved to Hawai‘i in order to work in sugarcane fields. Her family has always had trouble accessing healthy food. Her experience with food insecurity spurred Salsedo to dedicate herself to advancing food justice. In 2011 – while working as a youth organizer with the Earth Island Institute-sponsored project Rooted in Community – she proposed creating a Youth Food Bill of Rights. The declaration grew out of Salsedo’s vision for a food system that is good for consumers, producers, and the planet, and which gives local communities more control over the food they eat. Salsedo has since motivated her peers to spread the Youth Food Bill of Rights across the nation. Her work sparked dialogues about what food justice means to today’s youth.
Inspired by the idea that “when one teaches, many learn,” in 2009 Ryland King founded Environmental Education for the Next Generation, a program that recruits college students to teach elementary school kids about our environment. King wanted to “promote sustainable action throughout communities, from the youngest members of society up.” So he designed an eight-week curriculum that college students could teach first and second graders. The curriculum, which is aligned with the California State Board of Education’s content standards, includes topics like “The Importance of Bees,” “Composting,” and “Water Conservation.” In less than three years, 400 college student volunteers have taught more than 3,000 elementary school students in 200 classrooms across California. King hopes that by 2015 college students will be teaching at least 14,000 elementary school students a year.
2001 Brower Youth Award winner Deland Chan received the prize for restoring a native species garden in Manhattan. Today she works as a community planner in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where she brings diverse stakeholders together to help create a sustainable and equitable community. She co-founded the Chinatown Urban Institute to influence planning around the use of underutilized lots in the neighborhood.
In 2002 Jessian Choy received the Brower Youth Award for founding the Student Environmental Center at UC Santa Cruz and trying to create a more diverse environmental activist base there. Choy now works at the SF Department of the Environment, where she has spearheaded the city’s creation of an online database that lists more than 1,000 products that are the most sustainable in their class. The directory, SFApproved.org, has become a go-to resource for other cities’ governments that are trying to “buy green.” Choy also blogs at funanddraconian.com, where she offers sardonic consumer tips for eco purchasing.
Alex Epstein won the Brower Youth Awards in 2011 for co-founding Philadelphia Urban Creators, a collective of young people organizing Philadelphia communities to help them develop sustainably, and equitably, from the ground up. One of the focal projects of Epstein’s project was the creation of an urban garden in North Philadelphia. For this work, Epstein was recently awarded the Stephen J. Brady STOP Hunger Scholarship by the Sodexo Foundation.
Billy Parish dropped out of Yale in 2002 to help build a youth movement for climate solutions – an effort that eventually blossomed into the EII-sponsored Energy Action Coalition and for which he won a Brower Youth Award. Daniel Rosen won the award in 2005 for helping to create a bioregional farming network on the Navajo and Hopi reservations in Arizona. Today, Parish and Rosen are co-founders of Solar Mosaic, an Oakland, CA-based firm that uses a crowdfunding model to install solar arrays on churches and other community buildings. In June, the Department of Energy awarded Solar Mosaic a $2 million grant.
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