The 2003 Brower Youth Awards Ceremony

Earth Island News

Brower Youth Awards

©Daniel Lee/DKL Images

Four generations of environmental leaders attended the 2003 Brower Youth Awards ceremony on September 25 in Berkeley, California. David Brower even showed up to say a few words.

David C. Brower and his cousin Rosemary Olsen - David R. Brower’s grandchildren - introduced Award recipient Thomas Nichols, 14, who has been restoring the Rio Grande in New Mexico. Thomas works to restore the river’s cottonwood trees while protecting the native beavers who had been eating them. Previous restoration plans involved killing beavers. Ceremony host Van Jones highlighted Thomas’s work as an example of the need to see beyond false choices citizens are presented with today: “We’re being told that it’s ‘either/or,’... but these young leaders are showing us ways to have ‘both/and.’”

Onstage, recipient Illai Kenney, 14, of Georgia quipped, “I want you all to know that I’m running for Governor of California.” After a rousing speech that showed the influence of her work with civil rights leaders, Illai announced the formation of the League of Future Voters. Illai received a 2003 Brower Youth Award for environmental justice work as a co-founder of Georgia Kids Against Pollution. She was the youngest delegate to the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Andrew Azman, 22, of Boulder, Colorado, reminded the audience that the diesel engine was designed to run on vegetable oil; his work to promote biodiesel helps fulfill Rudolph Diesel’s original vision of farmers growing both food and fuel. As founder of CU Biodiesel, Andrew convinced the University of Colorado and the City of Boulder to refit their diesel buses and trucks to burn biodiesel.

Brower New Leaders Initiative co-director Mikhail Davis introduced recipient Whitney Cushing, 17, of Homer, Alaska, and reminded the audience that David Brower worked tirelessly to stop the Alaska Oil Pipeline. Whitney’s parents met while working on the pipeline and Whitney’s work to preserve the rest of Alaska shows that at least some good came of that environmental defeat.

John Sellers of the Ruckus Society introduced recipient Rachel Ackoff, 18, of Claremont, California, who works to educate local leaders and citizens on the dangers posed by global trade. Rachel organized and led trainings for over 150 students and adults to prepare them to work for a system of trade that protects environmental and human rights standards. Ackoff’s work is part of the worldwide Global Justice movement that stopped the expansion of the World Trade Organization in Cancún in September. (See page 34.)

Following an exhibition by activist dance troupe Dream, recipient Andrew Hunt, 22, of Bethesda, Maryland, said that his work organizing students from schools across Maryland into a unified force to lobby in the state capital didn’t take nearly so much talent. “Anyone can do this, it doesn’t take much, you don’t need rhythm, you don’t need agility… you just need to care.” Maryland students’ lobbying created a new state park at Chapman Forest and convinced the state to emphasize rail transportation in its request for federal funding.

At the ceremony’s end, recipients urged the audience to elect political leaders that share our commitment to protecting nature and public health.

The ceremony followed a week of activities that began with a trip to Yosemite, where Award recipients learned about Dave’s life and the history of the environmental movement, and spent a night in the backcountry with Earth Island’s Bay Area Wilderness Training. The week’s activities kicked off ongoing leadership development for recipients as part of the Brower New Leaders Initiative. As part of BNLI, Brower Youth Award winners will attend and speak at the Bioneers Conference and the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in the coming year.

“Sometimes when a great visionary passes on, it’s like a shooting star that burns brightly then fades away,” said host Van Jones. It is clear that David Brower’s light has not faded, and that the coming generation has many new stars to light up the sky.

- Mikhail Davis
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