“Even if it’s not something very big, even if you can’t see it, every action contributes to things getting better.”
– Harmony Mason, youth panelist
Each year NC BREATHE gives a platform to the voices of the next generation, welcoming the stories of young North Carolinians taking a stand for the environment. This year’s panel lifts up three rising stars in climate justice, committed students and volunteers who will inspire you with their sense of personal responsibility and their pragmatic approach to change.
The youth panel is an important element of NC BREATHE, said Kirsten Minor, who coordinates the event. “Just listening to youth, it’s clear they have no other choice but to be engaged in the work. Unless interventions take place, their generation is going to experience the worst of the climate impacts.” It’s clear that our three panelists agree.
Here are three good reasons to register for NC BREATHE 2023 and hear their voices at this year’s youth panel.
If you’re stuck in the outrage/fatigue cycle, you’re not alone. But here’s some good news: The young leaders on our youth panel have all discovered that there are many entryways to environmental activism.
“A lot of youth have this unnamed anxiety,” said panelist Harmony Mason, a Catawba College senior pursuing a bachelor of science degree in Environment and Sustainability. “Maybe they’re thinking about climate change in the news, or they’re feeling helpless about the future.” But youth aren’t helpless, and the situation isn’t hopeless, Mason said. You just need to get started. Sometimes it helps to get started close to home.
That’s how panelist and CleanAIRE NC intern Bailey Scarlett’s journey began. “I grew up around Raleigh’s excellent public parks system, where I gained an awareness of and appreciation for clean and healthy outdoor spaces,” he told us. “That awareness has developed throughout my education into passions for environmental justice, civic engagement and data collection to inform public policy.” Scarlett is taking his homegrown love of the environment international. Having found his niche in Davidson College’s Environmental Studies program, he is implementing the skills he gained at CleanAIRE NC and expanding them into a study abroad project.
You may be frustrated by activism options that just aren’t your style, trying to find out-of-the-box ideas that call on your specific talents. Shruti Agrawal has a story you’ve got to hear. In 2019, she turned a first-place science fair project into New Normal X (NNX), a student-led organization that encourages high schoolers to earn volunteer hours through daily carbon footprint reduction challenges.
Since founding NNX, Agrawal has interned with Operation Climate and is currently both a healthcare intern in the Mayor’s Youth Employment Program and a research volunteer intern at the Isabella Santos Foundation.
Ardrey Kell High School
Currently a junior at Ardrey Kell High School, Agrawal has already established herself as a leader among young North Carolinians by trying every avenue she can and seeing what sticks. “The best way to start is literally just to start,” Agrawal says.
Harmony Mason has discovered that collaboration and fellowship with others has helped her develop a broader point of view. Last year she interned at Los Jardines Institute after meeting its co-coordinator, Richard Moore, who was NC BREATHE 2022’s keynote speaker. Her time in New Mexico — her first solo trip away from home — was eye-opening.
“Even though I’ve worked in settings with people who had similar values, it was overwhelming to be with so many people who didn’t all have exactly the same ideas,” she said. “It was great to have a community where we could open up and talk about issues, and maybe find a solution we would never have thought of ourselves.”
Attendees at the youth session include both aspiring and seasoned justice workers from across the field.
Yancey Fouché, director of sustainability at Davidson College, will moderate the youth panel. At Davidson, she develops and manages strategies, teams, projects, and programs that foster collaboration and education. She also heads the Sustainability Scholars summer internship program, which matches Davidson students with a passion for the environment with mentors in the Charlotte area to help them launch impactful careers.
There are countless opportunities waiting for you! Register for NC BREATHE 2023, attend the youth panel and discover what you can do to change the world!
Students still have time to submit posters and abstracts for NC BREATHE 2023. This year’s theme is: “Climate Justice: Our Path to Healthier Communities.” We are calling for research abstracts focusing on public health, environmental health, health equity and/or climate change. Three student abstract authors will be selected to give a short lightning talk presentation about their poster and research. Submit by Monday, March 27, at 11:59pm for a chance to share your ideas and inspire students like yourself!
North Carolina’s premier climate health conference, NC BREATHE, takes place on April 6 at the 658 Center in Charlotte. The hybrid event, sponsored by Atrium Health and the US EPA Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program, brings together a diverse group of North Carolina influencers, policymakers, and community members who care about the earth, the air, and the health of North Carolina and its people. This year’s theme is “Climate Justice: Our Path to Healthier Communities.”