A child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”
― African Proverb
Environmental Justice is Generation Next “Who Got Next?”
Do you remember the Crash Dummies? What about, This Is Your Brain On Drugs (although I prefer the updated Your Brain On Drug Policy)? What about the Smoke Free Class of 2000? I have to be honest I don’t remember a song with it, but apparently there was…. Take a look.
Because of this messaging, as a child, I got my Granny to stop smoking, put on her seatbelt, and I never wanted my brain to end up like that egg. Saturdays were spent with the Get-A-Long Gang which consisted of my Granny, her sisters, her aunts, and me. We would go grocery shopping, to the farmers market, and to pick up whatever else was needed for the house. I can remember being the little girl in the backseat who would (probably annoying to the adults) say “Aunt Carrie put your seatbelt on,” and this would be my solo chorus until she put her seatbelt on. Those Crash Dummies and Gus the Bus schooled us on all the harms of not putting your seatbelt on, I was the self proclaimed car safety patrol.I also have the vivid elementary school memory of negotiating with my Granny to stop smoking and if she did, I would buy her a Mr. Goodbar, her favorite candy. She did it! And she never smoked again. I was schooled on all the harms of smoking, and although my Granny was never a heavy smoker, I knew I had to get her to quit. As I reflect back on this, in actuality, I was an advocate, and so many of our youth today have turned the switch on for their own advocacy. The youth are now asking us to do the same for Climate Justice.
Environmental Justice is Generation Next. We are approaching this from a lens of Who Got Next?, meaning both the way we view young people, and the people of all ages that are younger in experience. Generation Next can mean the youthfulness of age or in another sense the point at which you start your journey. Both have an energy that needs to be validated, supported, and honed. I was born into the Climate Justice movement and my current direction of work in 2014. I’m literally a 5 year old in this work. “Children are to be seen and not heard?” How many times did you hear that growing up? I can’t count them all. While an appropriate phrase at times when a child is in the midst of an adult conversation
when taken out of context to never let the child be heard, that level of damage this single phrase has caused needs to be undone. There are adults right now that are still operating in that and were never given the permission to be heard. If we don’t make room for them they will make the room they need.
What comes to mind when you think Generation Next? Who comes to mind? If you can only name Greta Thunberg, you should know before there was a Greta Thunberg that captured worldwide attention, and moved people in mass for youth climate strikes, there was
Amariyanna Copeny “Little Miss Flint.” Little Miss Flint forced us to come face to face with the devastating water crisis in Flint, MI. Generation Next links past, present and future. When we talk about Martin Luther King Jr., we have to talk about his work through present day examples like William Barber II and the Poor People’s Campaign. Dr. Barber is the Generation Next of that past generation, and those that are called to action through him become the Generation Next of that work. Generation Next is about the point at which you start your jou
rney, the part that has nothing to do with your actual physical age.
The issues of the day always mobilize the youth to act and sometimes in radical ways. The youth of the 60’s birthed some of the most radical movements that were anti-poverty, anti-war, and anti-censorship. And, it was the youth in 2018 following the tragic events of Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, FL, that mobilized a paralyzed nation, one that had been paralyzed since Earth day 1998, and the spring break of my high school Junior year, where we were all witness to the Columbine tragedy. The permanence of youth advocacy is and always will be present.
When your time on this earth comes to a close, what will be said about you? More importantly, who will continue the great work that you started? Will your work continue, or will it expire? These are just a few of the questions that we should be asking ourselves, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, in Environmental Justice. In order for the Environmental Justice movement to continue to be sustained and have impact, leaders in the field need to prioritize succession planning.
A quick search online, defines succession planning as developing new leaders for replacement of old leaders. Specific to environmental justice, it should be about more than replacing the old leader but more of how to preserve the impact of the work that has been done and ensuring that it continues. Succession planning provides the room to intentionally dream up new and necessary spaces for elders while developing new leaders to fill the voids left by the elders and build on the foundation of their work.
Too often, environmental justice leaders that are Black, women, or otherwise marginalized are stretched too far, and too wide. They are experiencing negative effects physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. As we work across environmental, social, economic, and other justice issues, many of us are focused on marginalized communities, who tend to be affected disproportionately when it comes to these issues. Therefore, any break or gap in the work could be detrimental to the members of this community. In order for our movements to continue to be sustained and have impact, leaders in their respective fields need to prioritize succession planning.
What will be your legacy? There are some adults that are holding on to their position of power that need to pass the mic. What is the succession planning of the Environmental Justice movement? Examples like Kaleia Martin give me hope. It is her willingness to do the work that our present moment mandates, and bringing along others that are both younger in age and journey. I don’t want a legacy based on how long I remained in a position of authority or power. I want my legacy to be how many people did I bring with me. We can run faster and farther together.
Environmental Justice is Generation Next. Who Got Next? Who is behind you? The young people in age and in journey. Generation NEXT is figuring it out. Back up and make space for them to learn, fail, and succeed. Helicopter parents are not needed. When Generation Next produces a reimagined version of what you may have originated, this is your opportunity to be a cheerleader. It is time to see the seed that you watered begin to bloom, and you must make room for the roots to grow.
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