WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Wildlife Federation and partners hosted the sixth in a series of environmental justice and frontline community roundtables with youth leaders from across the nation. The virtual meeting gathered more than 15 community advocates, experts, youth and nonprofit leaders to explore how young people of color are coping, planning and preparing forward-thinking to resume conservation practices, policies, education and engagement.
“The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the health and environmental challenges facing frontline communities and communities of color — and underscored why we need to have real conversations with people about the solutions they need and how to get there,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s important to support our frontline communities to endure through this incredibly challenging time. We need to seize the opportunity to respond in ways that create a smarter, more resilient and more nature-based future through equitable and just recovery packages that enable our most vulnerable to move from surviving to thriving.”
“Engaging our youth, having them in the discussions and seeing their futures tied to protecting and addressing our natural resources is key,” said Simone Lightfoot, national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation.
“As an organization founded to empower America's children to make a difference in their communities, the National Children's Campaign is proud to be collaborating with our national partners to ensure that young people are fully part of this important conversation about environmental justice and COVID-19,” said Jonah Gottlieb, co-founder and executive director of the National Children’s Campaign. “By coming together as an intergenerational movement pushing for change, we can take on the COVID-19 pandemic, fight for environmental justice and create a better future for everyone.”
National partners supporting the series of roundtables include American Public Health Association, Amnesty International, BlueGreen Alliance, NAACP, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal and Union of Concerned Scientists. Local partners included Encourage Me I’m Young (EMIY) Inc., Flint Community Water Lab and Take A Stand Tally.
Participants included Mustafa Santiago Ali, Simone Lightfoot, and Collin O'Mara of the National Wildlife Federation; Jonah Gottlieb, National Children’s Campaign; Dr. Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice; and Dr. Sacoby Wilson, Environmental Justice Journal. Youth participants included Kiki D, Artivist (age 21); Diana Fernandez (age 15); Levi Draheim (age 13); Giovanni Hernandez (age 19); Elsa Mengistu (age 19); Ayisha Siddiqa (age 21); Victory Nwabufo (age 21); Yolian Ogbu (age 21); Kevin J. Patel (age 20); Yassy Denprapa (age 12); Kayla Shannon (age 18); Nataki Close (age 19); Jakayla Lipsey (age 22); Wanjiku Gatheru (age 21); and Khamari Anderson (age 18).
The event provided a forum to discuss the intersection of conservation issues — such as biodiversity, resilient ecosystems, habitats, farming and agriculture — with justice issues such as tribal affairs, urban community mental and public health, COVID-19, housing, jobs, education, voting, worker’s rights, brown and green infrastructure, water affordability and shutoffs. Through its work focusing on urban initiatives and environmental justice, the National Wildlife Federation recognizes that all of these factors are interrelated.
“This roundtable is a rare opportunity for young people to speak boldly about the national issues affecting our nation,” said Kayla Shannon of Flint, Michigan (age 18). “It is imperative that we continue to protect spaces where underrepresented communities in government can have their voices heard.”
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