When Kids Fight for Environmental Justice, Words Have Power

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“Why aren’t all kids taught civics in schools?” Jaysa Hunter-Mellers asks. There has never been a more critical time in our history for young people, especially those from marginalized communities, to see themselves as change-makers, fighting for social and climate justice and understanding their role in our democracy. In her keynote, Jaysa will tell the story of how, when she was 10-years-old, she began to give speeches at rallies, testified at City Hall, and helped shut down the coal-fired power plant that was causing her asthma. This story is captured in the award-winning short film, “Words Have Power”. Jaysa—now 14—is a passionate advocate for school civic education. Jaysa will also talk about how the success stories documented in the Young Voices for the Planet films and the YVFP ACTION plan give young people the self-efficacy to change minds, laws and their communities – even though they are not yet old enough to vote. Jaysa envisions a world where all students learn how to participate in their own governance, take action, and speak truth to power.

At 10 years old, Jaysa Hunter-Mellers’ dynamic speeches at rallies and her testimony at City Hall helped shut down the coal-fired power plant that was causing her asthma. Her story is told in the short film, “Words Have Power”, one of thirteen award-winning Young Voices for the Planet (YVFP) films produced by Lynne Cherry, documenting youth solutions to the climate crisis and other environmental and social justice issues. 

In addition to environmental justice, Jaysa has become a passionate advocate for civic education in all schools, so that kids—and adults, too—can learn how to participate in their own governance, take action, and speak truth to power like she did. At 14 years old, Jaysa continues to galvanize audiences with a courage and wisdom that belie her years. She has been a Youth Leadership Panel Participant at Omega’s 2019 Drawdown Learn Conference and co-led, with producer Lynne Cherry, YVFP’s Civic Engagement and Democracy workshop at the Ashokan Center’s 2020 Youth Empowerment & Sustainability Summit (YESS!). She has spoken after film screenings including the Belmont World Film Festival and Suncommon’s Climate Action Film Festivals. She is also featured in these Radio Kingston interviews that aired as part of YESS! and Earth Day 2020.

“Words Have Power” won 2019 Best of Fest and 1st Place Environmental Awards at MY HERO Film Festival and has been screened at or continues to tour at Wild & Scenic in CA, Climate Action Film Festivals in NY & VT, and Environmental Film Festivals in Washington DC, Philadelphia, North Carolina, and Colorado. The film is included in Zinn Education Project’s Teach Climate Justice Resources and is used in Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation’s (CELF’s) citizen science air-quality monitoring programs in NY & TX and Communitopia’s climate science workshops in environmental justice communities in Allegheny County, PA.

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