On June 23rd, the Sierra Student Coalition asked me to speak to a group of high school/college students about Green Jobs, Green for All, and "green" justice in general.
College AND High school students, huh?
I've had plenty of experience speaking to energized, bright eyed university students who only want the world to be a better place. Every time I speak to an audience like this, I feel energized, invigorated, and hopeful that our dreams will come true. The country will survive the next 50 years. People will learn to waste less and live more. This audience, however, added a different ingredient to the recipe.
High school students add a sometimes tense, sometimes funny, always thought-provoking dynamic to any room. Add to this the fruit-basket of diversity: many of the youth might well be candidates for our jobs, coming from challenging backgrounds and circumstances. My nervousness increased the more I tried to reach everyone I was speaking to, the informed white students, the disinterested high school students of color, and everyone in between. With sweaty palms and chuckle, I made them laugh, asked them questions, and tried to understand my audience.
The breaking point arrived when I mentioned the "hood". When speaking about the need for college students to get off their campuses and explore the world surrounding those walls, I asked if anyone had ever been to USC. Plenty of them raised their hands, and one student commented, "Yeah, I been to Martin Luther King St! That street is the most ghetto place in the city!" Nervous laughter and sideways glances greeted the statement, as the student speaking was a white male.
These opportunities are the reason I will always do this work. I acknowledged the comment and tried to steer the group toward a common understanding of everyone's desire for basic needs, and pride in the places they live. I shared my own background with the students, so they would each feel the complexity behind attempts to define neighborhoods and people. The white students shared many of my experiences, as did the students of color, and a potentially divisive situation became a learning opportunity. During that hour, I experienced shock, sadness, joy, hope, and peace as I spoke to those youth.
I'm very thankful to the Sierra Student Coalition for giving me the chance to share our work with those kids, and for staying committed to justice while being green. For more information on the Sierra Student Coalition, go to http://ssc.org/