Regional Environmental Summits as a Way to Engage Youth
To Environmental Stewardship Mission Group of the New Hampshire Conference, I had suggested that we have a youth conference on Environmental Justice, as we had had the example of the International Indigenous Youth Council winning the “Movement Makers Award” at the UCC General Synod for creating an environmental justice movement to protect their water sources. I called the conference the “New England Youth Environmental Justice Summit.” I wanted to stress the regional aspect of the conference because I wanted the youth of this and other regions to understand that they are all in this environment together and that they can work together to solve regional problems. I invited speakers and activist from different states and organizations to present in order to have a varied program. This model can be duplicated in other regions, as well.
Our first Keynote speaker was Rev. Dr. Jim Antal who spoke about climate change being the greatest moral challenge humanity has ever faced. His book Climate Change Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work For Change gives examples of things that churches can do right now to get started. Pam Arifian, from the CTUCC, is the Director of the Northeast Environmental Justice Center, and she gave a workshop on the environmental and social justice impacts of what we eat. Pam has several exciting environmental justice weekends for youth in the near future.
Marla Marcum is the Creator of the Climate Disobedience Center in MA, and she taught her group how the use of “Public Narrative” can help you explain your passion of why you are working on climate change. Marla gave examples of how she has used civil disobedience to achieve success.
John Ungerleider, Professor at the School for International Training and Youth Leadership in Brattleboro, VT, helped his group create a Climate Change Co-opera, a reflective, participatory musical journey that engages the audience with the challenges that climate change brings to our lives.
Jehann El-Bisi, PhD, showed her documentary “Mni W’Coni” (The River Cried) about her experiences with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation “Water Protector” movement in North Dakota. Jehann’s goal is to have her film shown on PBS and available in schools.
Rev. Eric Jackson of the Brookside Congregational Church discussed eco-justice issues and had his participants discuss their passions of “why” and “how” to accept the challenge of climate change.
There was a panel of speakers representing different national environmentalist organizations such as 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the League of Conservation Voters who spoke about their experiences in the field of eco-justice and climate change issues.
Our final keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. Brooks Berndt, from the National UCC setting, who challenged the youth to create a program to involve their churches in eco-justice issues.
The Youth completed the day with a greater understanding of environmental justice and practical ways to combat climate change. We hope this youth summit will be replicated by the UCC in other parts of the country.