Meet the 18th Annual Brower Youth Award Winners

New Leaders Initiative

Earth Island Reports

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 2017 recipients of the Brower Youth Awards.

photo of young people standingphoto Amir Aziz Clark and Terrance TallieThe 2017 Brower Youth Award winners, from left to right: Mercedes Thompson, Dineen O’Rourke, Anthony Torres, Deja Powell, Charlie Jiang, Anne Lee, and Claire Wayner.

Claire Wayner,16 and Mercedes Thompson, 16
Baltimore, MD

Working towards a plastic-free Maryland

In 2016, Claire Wayner and Mercedes Thompson co-founded Baltimore Beyond Plastic, a youth-led, action-oriented organization that aims to reduce plastic pollution in Baltimore. Wayner and Thompson, who are sharing an award this year, were inspired to act after learning about the public health impacts that arise from plastic pollution, such as those associated with a local incinerator that spews toxic pollutants in their home city. (Baltimore burns 70 percent of its trash.) Their experience of inequity was heightened when Thompson learned that the styrofoam trays used for their school lunches, as well as for the lunches of millions of students across the country, leach carcinogens into the food they consume.

With Baltimore Beyond Plastic, Wayner and Thompson are tackling plastic pollution in their community through local school visits, educational workshops, rallies, youth summits, and meetings with local legislators to advocate for legislation. Last year they initiated a campaign to ban styrofoam throughout Maryland, and they are now pushing for bans on both styrofoam and plastic bags in Baltimore.

Anthony Torres, 22
Babylon, NY

Inspiring communities to demand climate action

As a community organizer in Washington, DC, Anthony Torres brings together thousands of volunteers to put pressure on members of Congress to act in the best interest of people and the environment, with a particular focus on the climate justice movement, fossil fuel dependency resistance, and bucking the environmental trends of the Trump administration. He has organized everything from a dance party protest outside of the home of Presidential Advisor Ivanka Trump, to a vigil for victims of Hurricane Harvey outside of the house of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, to a sit-in at the office of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In all his work, Anthony attempts to build an accessible narrative that speaks to our shared humanity, while acknowledging race, class, and gender disparities.

Torres is also the campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, which is pushing for an equitable NAFTA agreement that supports the environment, workers, and healthy communities, and is a trustee for the Progressive Workers Union, which represents Sierra Club employees.

Dejah Powell, 21
Calumet City, IL

Fostering a love for the environment

Last year, Dejah Powell founded Get Them to the Green (G2G), an organization that aims to foster love for the environment among Chicago youth, particularly youth of color. Powell’s first project with G2G was to organize a summer camp, through which she engaged 14 young people from across the city on issues like environmental justice, sustainability, and food and agriculture. G2G has since partnered with the nonprofit Gardeneers to build a school garden at Powell’s elementary school to provide hands-on, outdoor environmental-education opportunities for students, and has organized environmental-education workshops throughout the city.

Powell believes people cannot solve a problem that they do not know exists. Now a senior at Cornell University, she hopes that environmental education in cities like Chicago will improve ecoliteracy and help under-resourced communities access both local and global conversations.

Anne Lee, 17
Sammamish, WA

Challenging schools to adopt low-carbon solutions

In late 2016, following the November elections, Anne Lee and a cohort of students in Sammamish, WA realized that the incoming Trump administration was unlikely to follow through with US commitments under the Paris climate agreement, an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions and prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Lee and her peers decided that if elected leaders wouldn’t take action, they would. She soon co-founded Schools Under 2C, a student-led organization that aims to raise awareness of climate change among students in the US and abroad.

So far, Schools Under 2C – which has 80 student members – has reduced the monthly carbon footprint of Lee’s Tesla STEM high school by more than two tons. Lee has also helped implement a compost program, lighting reduction plan, and the use of a transportation incentive mobile app that encourages students to choose cleaner ways of commuting to school. Now Schools Under 2C is challenging other schools across the world to do the same, and 30 schools have already taken a pledge to join the Under 2C challenge.

Dineen O’ Rourke, 22
East Quogue, NY

Encouraging nonviolent, direct action

Dineen O’Rourke works with SustainUs, a youth-led organization that has been advancing the participation of young people at major United Nations conferences for 20 years. Through this work, she led a youth delegation to participate in the United Nations climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany (COP23), and trained a team of 14 youth from across the United States to participate in the conference. Last year, she was a delegate and team coordinator at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco. Her work with youth is centered around storytelling, direct actions, and partnerships with other international youth and climate delegations.

In addition to her international organizing, Rourke is active in her local and regional fossil fuel resistance movements. She has mobilized opposition to two fracking projects in New England, and participated in protests against the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline. She is also the co-founder of the Sugar Shack Alliance, a nonviolent direct action organization that has trained hundreds of activists in western Massachusetts to disrupt the fossil fuel industry.

Charlie Jiang, 22
Washington, DC

Pushing Wall Street to make just investments

After studying engineering at Stanford University, where he organized for fossil fuel divestment and environmental justice on campus, Charlie Jiang moved to Washington, DC and became a founding member of the DC ReInvest Coalition. This partnership of more than a dozen social justice and climate organizations across DC puts pressure on governmental bodies, fossil fuel companies, and Wall Street executives to divest from banks that have invested in private prisons, predatory lending companies, and the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

Learn more about Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative:

Jiang provides strategic and narrative direction for the coalition through action planning, media support, partnership building, and direct advocacy. He has helped organize marches and rallies in DC to support the #NoDAPL movement, which has evolved into the #DefundPipelines movement, and is fighting against the byproducts of fossil fuel extraction, including pollution of our air and water, and how it impacts local communities.

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