Meet The Next Generation Of Climate Justice Leaders
To celebrate Climate Week, NowThis has teamed up with Bank of the West to feature some of the young leaders, advocates, and activists at the heart of the climate movement. These trailblazing young adults strive to push our climate and racial justice goals further. Follow along to learn about the most forward-thinking voices who are pressing for environmental justice.
1. Fiona Joseph
Fiona Joseph, currently an undergraduate student at George Washington University, established herself as a leader in the climate justice movement before enrolling in college.
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Haitian-immigrant parents, Joseph witnessed first-hand the need to advocate for better working conditions for her community. This need became more urgent as workplaces of neighbors and friends continued to be impacted by climate change. The immediate effects of climate change in her hometown, due to the air, water and solid waste pollution built up after Hurricane Sandy, could not be ignored.
Springing to action, Joseph spent time collecting testimonials and staging workers’ rights workshops as a Youth Organizer with Make the Road NJ. These workshops targeted her people just like her: local teen workers. Joseph recognized that the racial inequities her peers faced in the workplace went hand-in-hand with the impacts of environmental racism. At a September 2020 rally for environment justice, Joseph shared that “Environmental racism is rooted in hundreds of years of inequity...the only way we can begin to reverse that is by uplifting communities here, organizing people in Elizabeth, because ultimately what we're doing with [this demonstration] is catching people's eyes.” Joseph aimed to educate others her age on this issue, and empower them to take a stand against these harmful norms. Joseph’s experience in grassroots activism has well prepared her to engage on a national level in Washington D.C.
2. Nyaruot Nguany
Nyaruot Nguany’s activism began locally, in her home state of Maine. There, she emerged as one of the original youth organizers for the Maine Environmental Changemakers Network, “a youth-led intergenerational network that connects young Mainers (ages 15-30) from diverse backgrounds who are passionate about the environment with peer mentors, and established professional mentors, in the sector." As this Network has grown over time, so has Ngyany’s role as a leader.
Centering her work at the intersection of environmental education and racial justice, Nguany has a unique perspective as the child of two parents who were born outside of the U.S. Her mother, from Kenya, and her father, from Sudan, were both farmers and grew their own food. Once in the United States, Nguany realized a harsh reality. She was taken aback that not all Americans had access to land or community gardens or even understood what a virtual resource land could be. For Nguany, land was essential to growing one’s own food. It also was essential for preserving green spaces for play.
Her family’s history inspired her activism related to BIPOC individuals' access to land for agricultural and recreational purposes.
Growing up in Maine, Nguany told NowThis she experienced an “awakening” overtime, as she realized that she rarely saw individuals who looked like her working in the outdoor and environmental industries. This gap in diversity, paired with the expensive nature of outdoor recreation, fueled Nguany to want to become a leader in this space. She hopes that by providing representation, she will encourage future generations to seek out opportunities in the industry and to benefit from the joy of the outdoors.
3. Nia Smith
On the West Coast, Nia Smith is challenging the fashion and design veterans of Los Angeles, California, to consider sustainability in new ways. Smith, an architecture student at the Los Angeles Trade Technical College, aims to work at the junction of “the housing crisis, climate, and young POCs in design.” This goal is fueled by her belief that “one of an architect's most important jobs is to design spaces with people and the environment at the core.” Smith has taken this responsibility seriously, by planning peaceful protests, leading eco-conscious initiatives on campus, and engaging with local government officials. One of the more prominent topics fueling her activism on a local level is the lack of awareness about the history of indigenous people’s land in her community.
Smith hopes to educate those around her of “the danger [that] over-consumerism” can pose to this territory. Her work as an environmental activist and community organizer continues to grow with her passion for the intersectional nature of this movement.
And despite this busy schedule, she still finds time to do what she calls “granny crafts” — sewing and knitting some of her own clothing.
4. Jerome Foster II
One of Washington D.C.’s most prominent climate advisors is only nineteen years old. Jerome Foster II is currently the youngest member serving on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Additionally, Foster II has spoken at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, where he met with world leaders to discuss climate change. His interest in the climate justice movement focuses on environmental law, specifically on decarbonization. As he has become more educated in this field, Foster has grown to believe that environmental justice cannot be achieved without the mass mobilization of young voters. To address this, Foster II founded OneMillionOfUs, an international youth voting coalition organized across five global issues: gun violence, climate change, immigration reform, gender equality and racial equality. His goal is to educate, energize and draw one million young people to the polls to vote in their nation’s elections.
Foster II also founded an international climate news outlet called the Climate Reporter to inform his peers around the world about the most prominent issues of their time, Foster II founded an international climate news outlet, the Climate Reporter. This outlet is led by youth writers across eleven countries.
In addition to this busy portfolio of work, Foster II continues to embrace as many opportunities as possible to lead in this field; he has served as a National Geographic Icelandic Explorer, he led Greta Thunburg’s Fridays for Future School Strike Movement at the White House, and he organized a 10,000 person climate march in Washington D.C.
5. Dillon Bernard
Dillon Bernard has harnessed the power of digital and social media in a manner that others in his generation have yet to grasp. Using these platforms as a “revolutionary tool,” Bernard has emerged as a top digital strategist, advising on social justice movements and empowering young storytellers of color. His expertise has led him to manage major campaigns, like the 2019 U.S. Climate Strikes, Earth Day Live, and #VoteWithUs early voting mobilization initiative. While balancing his studies as a journalism and design student at the New School in New York, Bernard works tirelessly to advise and amplify marginalized voices to take control of their own narratives. By focusing on content that contributes to conversations about diversity and representation, Bernard aims to advance like-minded goals. While he recognizes that he does not have the personality to be at “the front-lines of protests,” Bernard is making a sizable impact in his own way.