Greta Thunberg Is Not Alone: We Won’t Let The Media Erase Young Environmental Activists Of Color

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Source: JIM WATSON / Getty

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate change activist sacrificed school to sail across the Atlantic Ocean to raise awareness. She has been making headlines ever since as the real-life Lorax we never knew we needed. However, Greta’s actions and passion for the planet at such a young age is nothing new, although media outlets like to pretend they are. 

The bravery she exhibited as she stood before world leaders at the United Nations was admirable. The way she challenged and reprimanded their treatment of the global crisis further proved she is a force. And while her actions are appreciated, it’s important we remember the girls of color who are just as fearless and passionate when it comes to climate change. But these young women aren’t receiving as much media attention. 

If we’re putting a spotlight on Greta, it’s important we take the time to celebrate Isra Hirsi. Not only is she the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar, but she has been a titan for climate and social justice since learning of the Flint water crisis in 2014. She is also the co-founder of the United States Climate Strike and has attended the United Nations Youth Climate Summit. After watching tribal and conservation groups fight in her hometown of Minnesota to oppose pipeline construction, the 16-year-old has chosen to advocate for groups who are disproportionately harmed by climate change. According to a CNBC report, low-income communities, communities of color and other vulnerable populations are usually hit the hardest.

Xiye Bastida, 17, is a prime example of how inescapable the effects of the environment are. Xiye grew up in San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, and saw the harsh realities of climate change during her childhood after growing up during a major drought and when her home was flooded due to heavy rainfall. It’s part of what inspired her to become a climate activist. Xiye has lobbied lawmakers in New York State, helped organize two Global Climate Strikes this month, spoke at the United Nations and lobbied city council members to excuse the absence of students who skipped school to participate in a demonstration. For many of these young minority girls, the fight is personal.

Mari Copeny, 12, also exhibits #BlackGirlMagic when it comes to saving the world. In 2016, she wrote a letter to President Barack Obama about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. It was her letter that pushed the president to visit, giving the city the media and national attention it so desperately needed. Today the middle schooler still fights for a safe planet with clean water resources for everyone. Mari has been affectionately tagged as “Little Miss Flint” and proves every week why she’s deserving of such a nickname. Every Wednesday she raises awareness for communities who are in need of drinkable water. She also works in her partnership with a water filtration company and helps provide water filters for communities who struggle to access clean drinking water. 

Like Mari, Autumn Peltier began her fight when she was eight-years-old after learning that there were communities that had limited access to clean water. Autumn grew up on a freshwater island in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory in Canada, so toxic water was a very foreign and alarming issue to her. At the age of 12, she went toe-to-toe with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. She expressed her concern for his policies on pipeline projects and he, in turn, vowed to guard the water. When Autumn was 14 she hit the ground running and advocated not only for indigenous water rights, but for water conservation rights for all, with the numbers to prove it. Since her advocacy, 87 long-term water advisories in Canada have been removed since 2015. Like Greta, Autumn was given the opportunity to speak at the United Nations about the sacredness of water in her culture and reverence we should share as beings who rely on it. 

So if we’re going to talk about Greta, it’s important we mention these young women of color who have also advocated for our planet.

Anything less is a form of erasure, which Black people and persons of color have fallen victimized to for centuries. Let’s not forget when media outlets attempted to exclude Black activists from the conversation on gun control, as they did during the coverage of the Parkland student activists and the March For Our Lives. Black children faced the highest rates of gun-related homicides between 2002 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dying at 10 times the rate of white children.

Everyone is affected by climate change and although none of the above mentioned young leaders are seeking a national pat on the back, it’s important we know who is fighting to make our planet a better place. We share this world and so we should all be interested in protecting it. In the same breath, we should uplift and support those who take a stand for it.

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