Every year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young environmental activists from North America, ages 13 to 22, for their outstanding efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice. We are excited to announce the recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards. The 2015 winners are:
Ryan Camero’s hometown of Stockton, California has its share of social challenges – poverty, violence, and drug abuse to name a few. To make sense of these challenges, Camero began looking at organizations that were building resilience in Stockton. In 2010 he started volunteering with Restore the Delta, a grassroots group committed to the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Camero’s work with the group – where he is now on staff – helped him understand the trials of communities facing a drought and water privatization. Meanwhile, his interest in storytelling through art connected him to the Beehive Collective, an activist art group. In 2014 Camero helped create an interactive presentation that drew parallels between corporate efforts to privatize California’s water and peoples’ struggles against large-scale infrastructure projects in Mesoamerica. The presentation, called “Sucked Dry,” included intricate graphics created by the Beehive Collective. Last fall, Camero led a three-week tour to 18 California cities where he presented Sucked Dry to local audiences and facilitated discussions about the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem.
While studying environmental policy in the San Bernardino Valley of Southern California, Jess Grady-Benson witnessed the stark connection between racial and economic injustice and environmental degradation. That drove her to organize students to take collective action for climate justice. In 2012, she co-founded the Claremont Colleges Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. As one of the lead organizers of the campaign, Grady-Benson helped guide it to victory at Pitzer College, where in 2014 the college board agreed to divest from fossil fuels. Although she graduated last year, Grady-Benson has remained dedicated to building the youth climate justice movement through the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network – a national youth-led network that seeks to strengthen student campaigns for fossil fuel divestment and reinvestment.
As a member of the network’s coordinating committee, she focuses on planning the strategic direction of the organization and training young divestment leaders to become organizers for the long haul. In the coming year, Grady-Benson will continue working to develop the network’s long-term strategy and leadership development programs.
A strong believer in the impact youth can have on policy issues, Dyanna Jaye was troubled by the absence of youth voices when climate change policies were discussed in her home state of Virginia. Leveraging connections she made with students from other Virginia colleges at the 2013 Power Shift convergence, Jaye co-founded the Virginia Student Environmental Coalition. VSEC’s works to elevate student voices to influence state decision-making.
Virginia’s specific challenges, such as coastline erosion and mountaintop- removal mining, were a priority for VSEC. The coalition’s first actions included crafting a critique to the governor’s energy plan and demanding bolder climate action from the state. In early 2015, VSEC hosted its first Student Power Lobby Day, bringing together students for meetings with state legislators to press for the proposed Virginia Coastal Protection Act. With a presence on 11 Virginia campuses, VSEC is marching toward its goal to make sure students are heard.
As a high school student in drought-stricken Reno, Nevada, Celeste Tinajero couldn’t bear to sit idly as her school’s outdated toilets and faucets leaked water. So in her sophomore year Tinajero rallied her peers to send a $12,000 grant proposal to the nonprofit GREENevada (Growing Resources for Environmental Education in Nevada) to renovate Reed High School’s bathrooms. Tinajero and Reed High School were awarded the grant in 2011 to install low-flush toilets, auto-sensor lights, and automatic hand dryers and faucets.
Motivated by the victory, Tinajero tackled another issue plaguing her school – single use plastic bottles. In 2012, her school was awarded a $3,500 grant to install a “hydration station” where students could refill their water bottles. However, the school building was old and its walls contained asbestos that needed to be removed before the hydration station could be installed. To pay for the renovation, Tinajero and her schoolmates sold reusable water bottles at a school fair.
Tinajero graduated from Reed in 2013, leaving behind a legacy of change-making. Today she continues to help create positive change by designing curriculum on sustainable living for local schools and by working as a lead researcher for the Reno “Ban the Bag” campaign against plastic bags.
In 2013, JP Viñals joined Activists Coming To Inform Our Neighborhood (ACTION), a leadership group in the Hunts Point neighborhood of South Bronx in New York City. Hunts Point houses New York’s largest food distribution center, and this brings an average of 15,000 trucks to the neighborhood daily, making the streets unsafe for residents and causing immense air pollution. The neighborhood has some of the highest asthma rates in the country.
Viñals was especially interested in creating green spaces to alleviate air pollution and in teaching youth how to grow their own food. A year into his time with ACTION, he was voted president. He then focused the group’s work on championing the transformation of the defunct Sheridan Expressway into a vibrant boulevard. A long-running campaign, spearheaded by the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance, seeks to demolish the expressway and replace it with affordable housing, hospitals and green space. Viñals’ group has supported the campaign by leading presentations about it at various South Bronx schools and organizing a first-of-its-kind youth summit focused on educating youth and their parents about the environmental issues facing South Bronx.
As a sophomore at Wesleyan University, Kate Weiner noticed that even though her institution had a strong sustainability program and most of her peers cared about the environment, it was hard to get them to actually take actions to conserve resources. An internship with a feminist farming collective in Chile during her junior year gave her the idea of using collectives as a tool for sustainable living and social change. In 2014, she founded LOAM, a student- run environmental arts collective that, via a literary magazine and a gardening program, provides multiple pathways for students to explore sustainability.
LOAM’s eponymous magazine features environmentally themed art and writing by students. The gardening program, called Wild Walls, features low-cost wall gardens built and maintained by students. LOAM has produced three issues of the magazine and various installations of Wild Walls.
Weiner graduated earlier this year, but she continues to create a welcoming space off-campus for people to explore their environment. The first print edition of LOAM will be published later this year.
Join us for the 16th Annual Brower Youth Awards on October 20 at the newly restored Herbst Theater in San Francisco. To reserve your free seat, or to purchase tickets for the VIP reception where you can meet the winners, visit: www.broweryouthawards.org
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