“I’m still young, but I hope what I have to say could encourage someone or spark something in them.”
– Harmony Mason, Catawba College
Harmony Mason is much more than a senior at Catawba College. When you chat with the NC BREATHE 2023 youth panelist over Zoom, you can feel her energy in full effect through the screen.
“Youth have the power,” she said. “We’re just not very confident.”
Yet Mason certainly sounds confident. “It’s because of the NC BREATHE conference last year,” she said. “It was enlightening. I learn so much more when I’m around people than when I’m just reading a book. Fellowship is an important thing.” And when you get together with people who share your passions, you can build strong relationships and put your ideas in motion.
Case in point: A relationship with NC BREATHE 2022 keynote speaker Richard Moore that led to a summer position at Los Jardines Institute, an agricultural collaborative in New Mexico that Moore co-coordinates. The experience would prove to be life-changing.
Learn more about Mason’s experience in New Mexico, and how the NC BREATHE conference helped her take her interest in the environment to a new level.
It might do the same for you!
Mason’s passion for nature and the environment is rooted in her travels with family. She remembers a family trip to Puerto Rico when she was 11. “My stepmom was from there, and we went all around San Juan. There were so many different beaches. We went kayaking, horseback riding, and rappelling down a mountain.”
The natural wonders from her travels inspired her to take an environmental science class at her high school. “It introduced me to climate change and global warming,” she said. “We learned the basics of air pollution and trying to solve different issues.”
Engaging with others on these topics lit a fire that continues to grow. In her program at Catawba College, Mason is focusing on the rights and wrongs in our society and different communities. “It’s helped me realize that when I graduate, I want to work in a lab, develop my own research and conduct my own experiments and somehow translate that to words our communities can understand.”
NC BREATHE has helped Mason strengthen her resolve to take the next steps in her climate justice journey. “It’s good to have these groups and organizations like CleanAIRE NC that encourage young people to do something, and give them reassurance that they can,” she said. “Even if it’s something that’s not really big, it contributes to things getting better.”
Mason’s professor Mercedes Quesada-Embid invited her to last year’s conference to introduce keynote speaker Richard Moore, an icon in the environmental justice world who is co-coordinator of Los Jardines Institute in Albuquerque and the national co-coordinator of the Environmental Justice and Health Alliance for Chemical Policy reform.
“Our ancestors and our elders remind us about building an intergenerational movement,” Moore said during his keynote address. “We cannot engage in this discussion without the participation of our children, our youth.”
Moore’s address inspired Mason, and Quesada-Embid encouraged her to talk to Moore.
At first, she was nervous about reaching out to him, but once she did, they formed a strong connection. “When I was talking to him, I thought, ‘This guy! His work aligns with everything I want to do.’ I’ve never been so intensely drawn to someone to go up to them and ask, ‘Hey, can I come work for you?’”
But that’s what she did.
Moore put what he preaches into immediate practice. “I’d love to have you out there working on the farm alongside me,” he said. “I can show you everything I do.”
“It was an unreal experience,” Mason recalls of her time at Los Jardines. “They worked so hard to take care of their people, to grow food sustainably and locally. I wanted to see what they were doing so I could bring it back to North Carolina.”
The Las Familias Growers Market gave Mason a glimpse of the broader Albuquerque community. “Whatever we were able to harvest, what we could prep, we’d sell at the grower’s market, and it would be packed. Music, food, people selling drinks… very big family community, people helping people out.”
She got a chance to find her own value at the market as well. “They started having me make these flower bouquets to look pretty on the table. People were like, how much is that? We weren’t selling them and we’d just give it to the person. The next week they told me I should make like four or five of them, and we sell them for $10 each. There were real sunflower plants, a bunch of other different flowers and an artichoke head. When you bought the $10 flower bouquet, it wasn’t just flowers that were gonna die but a bunch of different seeds, which is a good thing for the pollinators, the bees.”
The personal connections that Mason developed were the icing on the cake. “I felt so welcomed,” she said. “I was amazed how fast I got connected to the community and how quickly I got attached.”
Mason is excited to be featured on NC BREATHE 2023’s youth panel. “I’ve always wanted to be in that moment where I’m asked questions and things come out naturally,” she said with a laugh. “I’m excited to learn and talk to people. I’m still young, but I hope what I have to say could encourage someone or spark something in them. I’m excited to represent youth.”
After the conference Mason plans to travel in Europe for the summer to explore universities. “When I come back I’m hoping to work with CleanAIRE NC in the summer,” she said. Next up: grad school.
Whether you’re beginning or deepening your climate justice journey, NC BREATHE can point you in the right direction. Register today.
If you are a student, you can submit your research in a poster! Three student abstract authors will be selected to give a short lightning talk presentation about their poster and research. Submit your abstracts by Monday, March 27, at 11:59 p.m.