The fall semester of 2020 marked the beginning of a new initiative “Youth at the Center,” which focuses on engaging with youth climate activists with the Center for Sustainable Futures. Supported by the Arthur Zankel Urban Fellowship, two TC graduate students, Mariana Casellato and Christina Torres, have been working in this front for the past months. The vision for this program is to support youth climate change activists by creating spaces where students and activists can make connections, find mentorship, and co-create educational programming in a non-formal setting. We want to build a bridge between youth doing important work on climate change activism and the resources that a university like Columbia has to offer.
In order to do that in a meaningful way for youth, it was vital to reach out to them and map what they have been doing, the challenges they have been facing, and the resources that would help potencialize their work. Aiming at doing that, we organized the first Youth at the Center meeting on December 12th, 2020. We brought together 17 young people engaged in climate action throughout New York City for a two-hour meeting to get to know them and introduce the Center. The event was an overwhelming success; it was particularly refreshing to feel the energy, generosity, and collective spirit among them. The diverse group had different ranges of age and experience and even so, were committed to getting to know each other, share experiences, create together, and clarify what could be unknown to younger participants.
The group was excited with the possibilities that the Youth at the Center program presents and quickly added new ideas to co-create it with us. Among those, four main topics can be highlighted:
- facilitating connections: among activists from different movements, and of them with other people who would be willing to support their work;
- connecting to policymakers: they want to reach out to legislators, public officials, and education officials to discuss their perspectives;
- promoting training and continuity: they acknowledge the importance of memory in their work, so that younger activists can know what happened before them and learn from that.
- creating content: some are interested in doing research and learning more about how to produce knowledge that way.
The group showed interest in participating in the activities the Climate Change Education for NYC program is organizing for the Spring 2021 semester, and accepted our invitation to form a regular group to co-create these initiatives with us. We are excited to accomplish our 2021 goals by working with young activists as our equals in a participatory way. The drive that they repeatedly exhibit while working on their projects reminds us of the gravity of the problems we are facing and the power youth activists hold to make meaningful strides forward in the climate movement.
Youth identified challenges and resources in climate activism: