Hundreds of people attended the 2nd annual Miami Youth Climate Summit at Florida International University this weekend.
The conference was organized by a board of 20 high school and middle school students, with the help of Emilia Odife, a Biology Honors and Field Studies Teacher at Gulliver Prep. Both public and private school students are on the board, representing seven schools across South Florida. It took five months to organize the conference, which also included workshops led by students.
“They have been very active and hands on, so this is a kind of a testament of their hard work,” Odife said.
Annesa Ali, 18, is president of the board and a senior at Robert Morgan Educational Center. She said the board had to fundraise, sell tickets, book speakers, and work with organizations in order for the conference to happen.
She said she wanted people to leave the event knowing climate change is real.
“And [inspire] others to do more stuff like this, start campaigns, start making a voice for ourselves to actually get government officials to actually make laws, and ban plastic, and stuff like that,” she said.
It was Odife’s Field Studies class that sparked the idea of creating a summit last year, after the California Youth Summit invited them to present on their coral restoration efforts.
“They wanted their summit. And I said ok let's do it,” Odife said.
The group organized the 2019 summit in two months, but this year “They wanted something bigger. We reached out to other schools and other friends, this is the response we have today,” said Odife.
Last year, more than 100 people registered for the event, she said. This year, that number doubled.
While last year the focus was to learn about climate change, this year the board wanted to address what can be done.
Workshop topics included: climate change leadership, zero waste, and a presentation by NatGeo Explorer Mireya Mayor, among others.
“They want to change through education. They're not here to scare anybody, but they are not going to be stopped. They are not going to be silenced,” Odife said.
Luiz Gandelman, 14, is an eighth grader at Gulliver and member of the board. Gandelman immigrated from Sao Paulo, Brazil when he was eight-years-old. There, he says he felt surrounded by pollution.
“But then when I came to America, and I saw what people in America have done to prevent this from happening, or from getting to a larger scale, I realized, like this, this isn't okay.”
At his school he’s part of the Green Team, which got the middle school cafeteria to stop using certain plastics.
During the conference, other students shared their sucesses in addressing climate change: composting, organizing school walk-outs and writing letters to the Governor.
“Just because we're younger, doesn't mean we're less smart. Just because we're younger doesn't mean we can't do change,” Gandelman said. “And if the adults that are currently in power...don't want to listen to the facts and see what's wrong, then we need to step up.”
Board president Annesa Ali said adults are sometimes dismissive, “but I kind of think that's ridiculous. Because, at the end of the day, our generation is what's going to become the future.”
Tobi, The Unofficial Mascot
“I feel angry when I hear other adults going 'oh they're too young, they don't know better. They do know,” said teacher Emilia Odife. “There's nothing magical about turning 18. They can make the change now and they're doing it.”
That’s why she closed the conference by talking to an auditorium full of students about Tobi— a red, stuffed T-rex.
She bought Tobi at the Natural History Museum in D.C., as a joke. But then it reminded her of her students.
“We look at T-Rex and we make fun of their little hands. And sometimes when we look at our youth, we think about all their shortcomings, like they're young, they're inexperienced and we don't give them the credibility they deserve,” she said.
But, she says, like the T-Rex, the students can be powerful. They just need their power to be harnessed with the right tools. “That's how I think of the youth, they are unstoppable,” said Odife.
Donning a Miami Youth Conference Summit-button on his chest, Tobi served as a reminder that age is just a number.
“They should never give up simply because someone else says you're too young,” Odife said.
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