2nd Annual Youth Environmental Summit Inspires Gary's Students to take ACTION

By Angel-Hannah Akinleye, 10th grade, Riverside High School

Thirty-three middle and high school students from Gary, Merrillville, Portage, Chesterton, and surrounding Indiana counties sat on the edges of their seats for the environmental summit. Enthusiastic energy buzzed on January 3rd where twenty-eight presenters and vendors spoke directly to the youth. Key organizers included the Gary Youth Services Bureau, Gary Department of Environmental Affairs & Green Urbanism, Gary Sanitary & Stormwater Management District, Gary Parks & Recreation, and the Genesis Convention Center.     

Earth Charter Indiana volunteer teenagers Cadyn Waxingmoon, Maddie Swank-Brooks,  Reed Rouch, and Stanley Njuguna spoke — sometimes emotionally — on the following: global youth responses to climate change, the impact of national climate, national climate change, and local change.

ECI volunteers and interns Cadyn, Stanley, Reed, Maddie and author Angel, with ECI Assistant Director Shannon Anderson.

ECI volunteers and interns Cadyn, Stanley, Reed, Maddie and author Angel, with ECI Assistant Director Shannon Anderson.

Reed Rouch is a senior at Brebeuf and an intern for Earth Charter Indiana, a statewide non-profit organization supporting youth in learning about climate change and its solutions. He was motivated to present on U.S. based climate activist groups such as Earth Guardians and Zero Hour.  Rouch states, “It was my first time spending any time in Gary. I was very impressed. I'm always impressed when youth come together to do something empowering as this. I was really impressed by the people in the city … how passionate they are about their community. It's the youth of Gary that is going to make a difference!”  

Cadyn Waxingmoon is a homeschooled high school junior attending IUPUI. She discussed global youth responses to climate change. She showed how young adults are rising against climate change and taking control of their future. One example is Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden. She strikes from school every Friday and sits outside the Swedish parliament until Sweden is in line with the Paris agreement. Thunberg  passionately states, “Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future?”

Many places in the world face environmental challenges. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “The UNFCCC has affirmed that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Climate change is a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.” Gary, Indiana, and surrounding counties have a large number of industrial productions particularly steel mines, affecting the air quality and water pollution. This creates an even greater environmental challenge.    

Youth in Gary vow to make a difference in their city. Jalen Dunscomb is the president of the City of Gary Youth Mayor-Council. Dunscomb hopes to renew beaches and parks for a safer, cleaner environment. He states, “The council meets every second day of the month. We plan on making an environmental resolution plan for Gary.  To ensure the resolution plan will pass we will have facts and evidence and write a letter to the Mayor.”

Brenda Scott Henry, left, answers questions from writer Angel. To the right is Cadyn Waxingmoon.

Brenda Scott Henry, left, answers questions from writer Angel. To the right is Cadyn Waxingmoon.

The city of Gary takes action on environmental change. Brenda Scott Henry is the Director of Green Urbanism, Environmental Affairs, and Gary Stormwater Management. Henry explains the process for environmental change, “How do we incorporate clean energy in low-income communities? Renewable energies are often expensive. How do we identify products we can offer to citizens so they can also begin to conserve energy and use these best practices, whether in businesses or in homes? So what we discovered was that energy efficiency activities, that means weatherizing your home, using energy efficient projects and appliances, and growing your own food."

Passion filled the eyes of Indiana youth who are now inspired to rewrite the future and turn around the effects of climate change. Guests lingered at the exit with pleasant smiles on their faces and renewal in their hearts.

Andy Fry