“This Decision Was My Catalyst”: How the Past Year with Our Climate Molded Me Into a Radical Teen Activist

Amina Castronovo is a junior at Beacon High School. Her passions include studying philosophy, writing, and fighting for environmental justice. She is a summer fellow for Our Climate, a core member of the DOE’s Sustainability Youth Leadership Council, a member of the Climate and Resilience Education Task Force’s Youth Steering Committee, and a co-leader of her school’s environmental club. Amina also loves lobbying, of which she is a lobby lead with New York Youth Climate Leaders. During her free time Amina writes Op-Eds, as she is a part of New York Renews’ Media Strike Team and a mentee at Girls Write Now, and she has been published in multiple publications. This year Amina has also started an internship at Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, which has furthered her dedication to learning more about her community. 


 

As a high school student growing up in NYC, I am constantly panicked that by the time I’m able to live my life the way I want to, there won’t be much left of the world to live. I remember the first time I had this feeling in third grade when my teacher showed my class a video about poachers in Africa. In my mind I can still see the limp bodies, and I can still feel how the shock seeped from the screen, through my skin, into my veins, where it would flow for the rest of my life. This hopeless, helpless feeling followed me like a shadow for years, and I kept thinking: What could I do? How could my actions change anything? Since then, I have always felt a rich passion for the Earth and all of its wildlife, but it wasn’t until I attended Our Climate’s policy camp a year ago that I became a climate justice activist. 

Looking back now, that decision was the catalyst that helped me to recognize the person who I already was: confident, passionate, caring, and tenacious. My work with Our Climate has been more than just development of an activism practice, but a development of a person -- the development of me learning that I have more power than I ever thought possible. Now I am able to explore that energy through the ways that my interests and the climate justice movement intertwine. One of the reasons why I love this movement is because it brings together an abundance of social injustices at a crossroads. At that intersection, I have begun to understand different movements on a human level that is not taught in schools. In going through this metamorphosis, I have felt more confident in my abilities to support other social justice movements and now I never hesitate to join a march or a meeting, or write about my perspective. 

A large contributor of my growth occurred with help from my mentor, who I was assigned to after becoming a field rep with Our Climate in the Fall of 2019. He helped me to write and pitch opinion editorials (op-eds) and attend lobby meetings with local representatives. After I attended the September climate strike in NYC, I published my first op-ed about the power of youth during the march in my local newspaper The Broadsheet and in E Magazine. Through that success I was able to see the possibilities ahead of me, and I became even more curious and excited. From there I attended NY Renews’ Lobby and Rally day in Albany (which I had to get up at 4AM for!) and I had never felt so civically engaged and involved with my community, something I would suggest for every youth. Going to the capitol and expressing my valid, fervent desires for what I want changed was eye opening for me. Since then I have also become a lobby leader, which means I schedule meetings with representatives myself and hold the meeting! If someone had told me that a year ago, or even six months ago, the anxiety alone would have petrified me. But through the guidance of Our Climate I now know that I am more capable than I ever would have imagined.  

This summer I co-lead a workshop at Our Climate’s policy camp. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was just an attendee, and now I am a leader! For my workshop I chose to co-teach storytelling within the climate justice movement. This topic gave me the opportunity to explore something that I feel strongly about and which is essential to all movements --vulnerability. Getting the chance to teach a subject that interests me and connect with people on a personal level is the essence of what distinguishes Our Climate from other organizations. Mentors give you the tools you need to become a leader yourself while encouraging you to immerse yourself in what you love. Each time I finish a project I feel as if I have attained a new level of myself and found more appreciation for who I am and what I can do. Now I am developing my own training that focuses on becoming a lobby leader and using personal stories to influence policy makers in meetings. It is a project I am excited about and I believe will have an impact on someone. Aside from that, I am also determined to make climate justice education a mandate in NY State public schools. I am working with Our Climate, the National Wildlife Federation Youth Steering Committee, and the DOE Sustainability Youth Leadership Council to make this a possibility. With each meeting I learn more about collaboration, the impact that all of our systems have on People of Color, and I become increasingly inspired by what my generation can do. We’ve come a long way, especially this year with the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, but I feel encouraged by our capabilities. I’m proud to say that I am becoming one of those “radical” Gen-Zers. To youth who are reading this, I hope you find the movement that gives you the same pride, too. 


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