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Leave It to the Kids

My dad always took my brothers and me for walks in the warm and humid evenings when we were young. In between laughter, he told me how I would wobble a few feet, stop, and stare at a tree that stood right next to me. I observed the leaves and the deep grooves in the bark. Then, I would wobble a few more feet, stop, and watch the grass and try to touch as many blades as I could. I would pick up a dandelion and stick it in my hair. Smell it. Wobble, stop, and observe the ants crawling around my feet. My dad said that I would take an hour to walk just one block.

From a very young age, I watched nature with intense curiosity. I lived in a suburb in Chicago where every blade of grass needed to be regulated and cut down to a standardized height. My family did not conform. We mowed our lawn maybe once a month. The grass became nice, messy, and long. The neighbors were always uncomfortable with it. They came to our house and offered their lawn mower to cut our lawn, or the contacts of the people that they hired. We didn’t feel inclined to live the cookie-cutter life that everyone else conformed to. The moment I moved to Utah, I saw a raw and wild beauty that could not be compared to suburbia. The mountains shaped my surroundings in ways that seemed random. During the fall, the mountains that I hiked with my brothers blazed with the warm colors of the trees. There was nothing cookie-cutter about this place. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I felt right at home. I felt free.

Growing up, I was raised to question everything, except my parents, which I did anyway. I still believe that asking the right questions can give you the solutions. In 8th grade, my science teacher showed us documentary films highlighting different key issues. One that stuck in my mind was about GMOs and their adverse effects on people and the environment. I remember the scene that showed the bees dying. I remember my heart twisting for them. I felt a great responsibility to the people that the corporations were threatening. My heart overflowed with a mix of anger and empathy that filled my whole body. Right after that, I talked with my friends about creating our own school garden using organic farming. That was the turning point for me. I found the new ideas I had were exhilarating. If my friends and I could work together, we could make our community better. Still, people told me to “relax” and “enjoy my youth.” They told me that I had no reason to worry while I was young, because the adults would protect us. To my surprise, this was not at all true. If anything, they were making it worse.

I think one of the most empowering things about being a youth activist is the ability to take matters in my own hands and to shape the kind of future that I want. I think back to the stories my dad told me about my evening walks, how I felt the beauty of the world radiating and was protective of it.

The election last year angered a lot of young people under 18. We had absolutely no say in the results of the election. Yet, we are already being affected. We are experiencing hurricanes, forest fires, pollution, mudslides, and droughts. Children are so vulnerable to environmental injustices. They are disproportionately affected by the toxic air we breathe. It is only right to listen to our voices to hear the future we want.