By Kholiswa Mendes Pepani
Color of Climate (COC) is a Maine-based group working to spread awareness of climate issues while centering young Black and Indigenous voices that have historically been marginalized from the conversation.
During the summer of 2020, amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, many organizations came together to explore how to maintain the energy of the emerging wave of community activism. Among those organizations was the COVID Youth Coalition, now known as the Community Youth Coalition of Portland, which gathered in the pandemic to help their neighbors battle the challenges of COVID-19.
Safiya Khalid, then newly elected to the Lewiston City Council, reached out to the young leaders of the Community Youth Coalition. She was hoping to explore more group involvement in activism and educational opportunities. One of the leaders she approached was Idey Abdi, who now is a youth ambassador and leader of Color of Climate.
Abdi described the birth of the group; “Safiya came up with the idea to create Color of Climate, as she wanted to involve Black and Indeginous youth in the climate change conversation. The hope was to get BIPOC youth educated and inspired to participate in climate action. The work at Color of Climate prioritizes the perspectives and experiences of Black and Indigenous people, while trying to educate communities of color who have been previously disadvantaged and don’t have access to climate educational services.” Color of Climate works in partnership with Gateway Community Services of Maine
According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency, communities of color face disproportionately severe impacts of climate change, without being equipped to prepare for and recover from the fallout caused by heat waves, poor air quality, flooding, and other impacts. This situation makes it increasingly difficult to have access to equal opportunities or to emerge from systemic economic disadvantages.
The Color of Climate prepares BIPOC youth to fight this situation by providing them with the resources and educational tools they need to have insight into this issue.
“We talk about how climate change impacts our communities now and into the future. We highlight the intersections between climate justice and racial justice,” said Abdi. “At a meeting with Maine Youth Climate Justice, they expressed that climate justice is racial justice. We talk about water justice, and affordable housing in Maine, and all of the surrounding issues that relate to climate justice.”
Climate justice as racial justice allows advocates to talk about the roots of the issues and who they impact – all with a vision for transformation. This helps direct resources to BIPOC groups that have been overlooked. “Color of Climate…highlights the voices of Black and Indigenous youth and minorities as our voices are usually the ones left out.”
By facilitating a space for these conversations, Color of Climate simultaneously works to uplift youth to the frontlines of leadership. Skyler Abriola, COC Coordinator and Americorps Volunteer, explained the importance of organizing youth while centering them as leaders. “The goal is to build leadership skills specifically among BIPOC youth who have not been at the center of climate talks. It’s important for young people not only to know about climate issues, but also to have the tools to tackle them themselves. It’s important for this generation to know about Color of Climate, especially in Maine, as it’s the first youth-led climate group in the state, and it’s essential that we get young people involved… we thought it would be important to have a group dedicated solely to this topic to get the youth involved early.”
Every Wednesday, the group gathers to discuss climate issues and plan events – by Zoom for now, but they hope to have in-person meetings soon. “We are currently looking for more members, BIPOC and non-BIPOC – we accept everyone!”Abriola said.
The youth-led meetings have been crucial to creating a space for leadership. Abdi shared her experience: “I led one of the meetings and did an activity from another event that I helped plan. It was a team-building exercise, and was a scenario of a community that had an issue with the water. We worked together to help solve the issue and figure out what the community members could do. At other meetings we discuss topics for the speaker series that we are a part of.”
Many projects are in the works. Color of Climate has partnered with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute where experts share information and resources with the young leaders. The group has explored a range of topics on climate risks and have been delving into migration and relocation as a result of climate change. In addition, Color of Climate is working to start a storytelling project in collaboration with 350 Maine, where young Mainers can share stories on the effects of the climate crisis and how they can inspire change. In addition to meetings, Color of Climate leaders take members on hikes around Maine, and are planning events to help build relationships within the group.
These youth on the frontlines of climate change and activism are joining together to make tangible change, because they believe that participating in action is crucial to ensuring the best outcomes for all future generations.