Amplifying the Voices of Youth from Diverse Backgrounds in Maine

Idey Abdi

Idey Abdi

Ever since I was young, I’ve always wanted to leave Maine. I found that it lacked diversity and that there were not many activities to do. I never got to go on a family vacation or explore the beautiful state. Last summer, I took a three-day trip to Acadia National Park. Although I couldn’t bring my family, I was surrounded by friends and community members. After hiking Cadillac Mountain I watched a breathtaking sunrise view, something I will never forget. While the experience was unforgettable, the thought that many Maine residents like myself will never have the opportunity to visit Acadia National Park broke my heart. I would love to come back and bring my family to the national park so they can see the beauty of Maine as well. This trip made me realize that I love the outdoors and that Maine is one of the most beautiful states in the country.

In December 2020, I had a conversation with Safiya Khalid, Leadership Programs Manager at Gateway Community Services Maine, about my interest in climate change and my desire to get involved. She informed me that disadvantaged and minority communities are heavily impacted by environmental issues. I was surprised because I grew up living in an underrepresented and underserved community. This conversation opened my eyes a lot and I also realized the importance of educating and defending the interests of people in my community.

I am currently a Changemaker Fellow with the Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA). For my fellowship community action project, I plan to organize a clean-up day in Lewiston during my spring break. I was motivated to create this project because when I walked to school or went out, I always saw trash on the ground. I wanted to animate a beautification project. This is just the beginning. I hope to lead more beautification projects in the area, like advocating for more trash cans, planting gardens around town, working on an art project with students to exhibit around town, etc.

Yani Nganzobo

Yani Nganzobo

Yani Nganzobo

My name is Yani Nganzobo. I am originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but grew up in South Africa. I came to the United States of America in 2019 as an international business majoring student at the University of Maine Machias. Over the last few years of living in the United States, I have had the good fortune to understand the importance of the environment and its necessity through the various organizations and community services in which I have participated. It not only strengthened my understanding, but also helped me put what I learned into practice. Where I come from, the word “environment” is something difficult to hear. It’s not every day that you hear people talk about the need for us to take care of our environment. What I mean is that it is not something that is underlined. I grew up in an environment where nobody cared. It was about waking up, brushing your teeth and getting ready to go to school, study and find a job, nothing more! I remember one time when I did some community service where we had to pick up litter at the park and that was it. I never did anything like that again. It was something rare.

The words “climate change” never existed for me; the only place I’ve heard of it is in our geography classes and that’s it. When I got to grade 10, my main focus was accounting and business, that’s all. I believe that if you watch the news, you will understand why our countries are not moving forward. We don’t have the right people to lead us and how our communities become a better place to live. Yes, there are parts of the country where people are doing well, but that’s rare. Another thing I remember is throwing things on the ground because that’s something we were used to. You would see litter on the ground, which would increase pollution in the community. Unlike here, throwing dirt on the ground is illegal. I was shocked when my friend warned me that rubbish was dumped in an inappropriate area. When I arrived in the United States, my view of the environment changed when my friends started talking to me about the importance of what surrounds us. I started participating in community service.

My first community work was working for the Covid Youth Coalition (CYC) of Gateway Community Services Maine, which then launched Color of Climate. It was the beginning of my journey, a change of life and a new beginning. My ideas and thoughts towards the environment began to change. I began to realize that my impact on the world mattered a lot. Yes, it was difficult because some habits were difficult to change, such as throwing dirt on the ground, which leads to pollution. I thought twice about what to do. Being part of this group (COC) and other organizations (MEEA and Cultivating Community) has enlightened my thoughts to improve the environment we live in, and it has helped me understand the negative and positive impact we have . The activities we do, the very informative slide show, and above all, the Zoom meetings, are all aspects that contribute to the success of the world. Without these gatherings, many of us would have no idea what climate change is. This is the story of my involvement with the environment.

Thea Forrest

Thea Forrest

Thea Forrest

When I was younger, I lived in the countryside. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to realize what a gift it has been to be able to have these experiences. It was something I had always taken for granted. Growing up, being surrounded by nature greatly influenced my appreciation for it, as well as spending time outdoors.

During my freshman year of high school, I attended a climate change rally in front of city hall. It was truly eye-opening to see so many students from different high schools and colleges coming together to speak and be heard. This sparked my interest in climate change and climate justice. This event showed me the importance and value of standing up for what you believe in and how impactful it can be.

I joined Color of Climate in 2021. I was given a flyer for the climate change group and started attending meetings, where we discussed various topics. Learning about the serious and devastating consequences of our actions in terms of our impact on the earth has helped me understand the urgency of climate change. Color of Climate allowed me to share and communicate my thoughts on this issue and gave me the opportunity to listen to others and hear their views. This group allowed me to find my voice and learn alongside other young people.

Climate Color (COC)

students on top of a mountain with sky and trees behind themWe currently have our speaker series and have partnered with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute for scientists and experts from across the country to share their expertise in ways specifically designed for youth, teachers, informal educators, and librarians. Specific topics range from an overview of global patterns of climate risk and migration to personal stories of how residents are adapting and relocating due to climate change.

The COC plans to launch the Storytelling Project in partnership with 350 Maine, another climate-led organization. We want to hear the stories of other young people and Mainers. The stories will help give others a better understanding of how climate change is currently happening and inspire action to address the climate crisis.

Color of Climate (COC) is a group founded by Gateway Community Services Maine in the summer of 2020. The group focuses on the perspectives, voices, and leadership of Black people and people of color on issues of climate crisis and justice environmental. The COC develops climate-resilient youth by cultivating leadership, trust and community. Communities on the front lines of the climate crisis have vital knowledge and need to be leaders in addressing one of the most pressing issues in our lives. COC members explore the intersection of the climate crisis and our communities, who is involved in the fight for climate justice, and how you can be a leader of change. I am proud to be part of the COC because the priority of the group is to amplify the voices of BIPOC and create a space where young people from all walks of life can come and share their story. In a time of social and racial justice movement, we need to bring the stories of frontline communities who are being seriously impacted by climate change. We are always looking for ways to increase the participation of our young people and seek to increase our membership. Anyone from across the country can join in and help grow this much needed work.

by Idey Abdi

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