Ever since I was young, I have always wanted to leave Maine. I thought it lacked diversity and there were not a lot of activities to do. I never got to go on family vacations or explore the beautiful state. Last summer, I got to go on a three-day trip to Acadia National Park. Although I was not able to bring my family, I was surrounded by friends and community members. After hiking Cadillac Mountain, I watched a breath-taking view of the sunrise, something I will never forget. Although the experience was unforgettable, the thought that many Mainers like me will never have the opportunity to visit Acadia National Park broke my heart. I would love to return and bring my family to the national park so they can also see the beauty of Maine. That trip made me realize that I love the outdoors, and Maine is one of the most gorgeous 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 and live in an underrepresented and underserved community. That conversation was very eye-opening to me, and I also realized the importance of educating and advocating for the people in my community.
I am currently a Changemaker Fellow with the Maine Environmental Education Association (MEEA). For my fellowship Community Action Project, I am planning to organize a clean-up day in Lewiston during my spring break. I was motivated to create this project because when I would walk to school or go outside, I would always see trash on the ground. I wanted to host a beautification project. This is just the start. I hope to lead more beautification projects in the area like advocating to have more trash cans, planting gardens around town, working on an art project with the students to be displayed in town, etc.
My name is Yani Nganzobo. I am originally from The Democratic Republic of Congo, but I grew up in South Africa. I arrived in the United States of America in the year 2019 as an international student majoring in business at the University of Maine at Machias. During the past few years living in the United States, I have gotten the chance to understand the importance of the environment and its necessity through the different organizations and community services I have participated in. Not only did it build my understanding but also helped me put what I have learned into practice. Where I come from the word “environment” is something hard to even hear about. It is not every day you hear people talking about how necessary it is for us to take care of our environment. What I mean is that it is not something that is emphasized. I grew up in an environment where nobody cared. It was all about waking up, brushing my teeth, and getting ready to go to school, study, and get employed, nothing more! I remember one time I participated in community work whereby we had to pick up litter at the park and that was it. Never did I do something like that again. It was something rare.
The words “climate change” never existed to me; the only place I have heard about it is in our geography classes and that was it. When I got to 10th grade my main focus was on accounting and business, that’s it. I believe if you watch the news you would understand why our countries are not moving forward. We don’t have the right people to lead us and how our communities grow to be a better place for us to live. Yes, there are parts of the country where people are doing well, but it is rare. Another thing is that I remember is throwing things on the floor/ground because it is something that we were used to. You would see trash on the ground, which increased pollution in the community. Unlike here, throwing dirt on the ground is illegal. I was shocked when my friend warned me about trash being thrown in an inappropriate area. When I came to the United States my perspective of the environment changed when my friends started mentioning to me the importance of what is around us. I started participating in community service.
My first community work was working for Gateway Community Services Maine’s Covid Youth Coalition (CYC), which later started Color of Climate. This was the start of my journey, a life change, and a new beginning. My ideas and thoughts toward the environment started to change. I started to understand that my impact on the world matters a lot. Yes, it was hard because some habits were hard to change, like throwing dirt on the ground, which leads to causing pollution. I thought twice about what I should do. Being in this group (COC) and other organizations (MEEA and Cultivating Community) has enlightened my thoughts to better the environment we are living in, and this helped make me understand the negative and positive impact we have. The activities we do, the very informative slideshow, and most importantly, the Zoom meetings, are all aspects that contribute to the world’s success. If not for these gatherings many of us wouldn’t have an idea of what climate change is. This is the story of my involvement with the environment.
When I was younger, I used to live in the countryside. I have only recently begun to realize what a gift it has been to be able to have had those experiences. It was something that I had always taken for granted. Growing up, being surrounded by nature has greatly influenced my appreciation for it, as well for as spending time outside.
During my freshman year of high school, I attended a climate change rally in front of City Hall. It was truly eye-opening to witness so many students from different high schools and middle schools coming together to speak and be heard. It sparked my interest in climate change and climate justice. This event showed me the importance and value of speaking up for what you believe in and how impactful it can be.
I joined Color of Climate in 2021. I was given a flier for the climate change group and began attending meetings, where we discussed a variety of topics. Learning about the severe and devastating consequences of our actions when it comes to our impact on the earth has helped me to understand the urgency of climate change. Color of Climate has allowed me to share and communicate my thoughts about this issue and has given me the opportunity to listen to others and hear their perspectives. This group has allowed me to find my voice and learn alongside other young people.
Color of Climate (COC)
We currently have our speaker series and have partnered with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute to have scientists and specialists from across the country share their expertise in ways designed specifically for youth, teachers, informal educators, and librarians. Specific topics range from an overview of global patterns of climate risk and migration to personal narratives of how residents are adapting to and relocating as caused by climate change.
COC plans to start the Storytelling project in partnership with 350 Maine, another climate-led organization. We want to hear the stories of other youth and Mainers. The stories will help give others a better understanding of how climate change is happening now and will inspire action to confront the climate crisis.
Color of Climate (COC) is a group founded by Gateway Community Services Maine in the summer of 2020. The group is centered around Black and People of Color perspectives, voices, and leadership in climate crisis and environmental justice issues. COC builds climate-resilient youth by cultivating leadership, confidence, and community. Those on the frontline communities of the climate crisis have vital knowledge, and they must be leaders in facing 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 in change. I am proud to be a part of COC because the group’s priority is to amplify BIPOC voices and create a space where youth from all backgrounds can come to share their story. In a time of social and racial justice movement, we must bring the narratives of frontline communities who are severely impacted by climate change. We are always seeking ways to grow our youth participation and looking to expand the membership. Anyone from across the country can join and help grow this critically needed work.
—by Idey Abdi