The Power of Youth

Charles Orgbon III, CEO of Greening Forward, is 20 seconds into his speech to an auditorium filled with architects, engineers, teachers and builders and it is clear that he is the brightest person in the room.
And the youngest—Charles Orgbon III is in high school.

So what do you do when the youngest person in the room is taking his elders to task for not giving real voice or decisions to children?

Listen.

“I hear well-meaning and well intentioned adults say youth are the future, but the reality is youth are today. Youth are the leaders of today and youth can drive transformational, substantive change– if given the chance.”
Pacing the stage with a bright, wide smile, Orgbon is friendly, but insistent.

“I challenge adults to soften your hearts and let young people share decision making responsibility with you as an adult… So… how many of you have youth on your board of directors or as a part of your leadership team?…”
He smiles and waits in the silence.

“It’s obvious. Young people are uniquely qualified to say what works for young people, so if your program is serving young people, where are they?
Why aren’t they part of your evaluation committee?
Why aren’t they designing the schools that we get to go to school in?
Why aren’t we designing the curriculum that is taught to us?
The school boards that are led by grey haired adults–where are the students in that process that they are making decisions that affect our lives?”

Orgbon smiles to the crowd and continues.

“I believe that as adults we all have a powerful role in challenging young people to take that leadership role. Use your power to help a young person find his. Because when youth are challenged to create change in their communities we will rise to that challenge.”

“It’s a diversity issue; it’s a democracy issue..” Orgbon points out, looking into the crowd of mostly white adults at the USGBC Green School Summit in Washington DC.

They are listening intently and applaud his speech, enthusiastically.

Diversity, democracy and inclusion are themes that have echoed through every civil rights movement. But will the generations that recognized the rights of women and people of color now recognize the rights of youth to protect their future?

Climate change means that decisions on energy use will affect the world of our future–our youth–far more than the grey haired people who are making these decisions. Our youth will bear the brunt or fruits of these decisions, but have no voice or vote in making them. This is unjust. It is also poor planning. You don’t leave the safety decisions to the people that get off at the next stop or long term financial decisions to the people who are cashing out.

Orgbon is asking youth to rise up to claim their stake in their world and the adults to reach out to meet them. This can be a vibrant, peaceful revolution that empowers us and protects our world for our youth—for many generations to come. It doesn’t take a war, just an open door and outreached hand.

Shan Gordon

Echoes into the Future

posted in: Blog, Energy, Environment, News and Issues | 0

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

-John Dewey, My Pedagogic Creed

Spirits of Hopkins

The auditorium at Benjamin Franklin High School is as dim and faded as the community that surrounds it.
The wooden seats are draped with the heavy coats and protest signs brought for the long march ahead.
The crowd, clusters of young and old, leans into the speeches to sort the earnest words from the echoes that chant them back again. A painted outline of the proposed incinerator belching smoke looms behind Kelly Klinefelter Lee, the English teacher at the school as steps to the podium and raises up a spirit from the past.

“The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”

Lee pauses for a moment, letting the room fill with these words from the past.

Published over three quarters of a century ago, these words by a Dewey, (Hopkins Ph.D. philosophy, 1884) still remain important revelations for our educational system. His ideas can be recognized in new initiatives for project based learning, service learning and community schools.

Then Lee adds her own voice, her own echo.
“When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.”
“I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.”
“There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.”

“Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?”
“You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most.
You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this.
So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.”

“It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?”
“This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.”

“We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.”
As the applause greets Lee back to her seat among the crowd, it is clear that the ideas of John Dewey are alive here. His ideas can be recognized in project based learning, service learning and community schools. Studying stuff that matters. Solving problems in the world.
Dewey viewed education as a social process and the school as an institution which would create social reform.

As students march with their teachers, parents and supporters to the site of the proposed incinerator
their voices ring forward together to protect their families and community.

“Who’s City?” “Our City!” “Who’s City?” “Our City!”

It’s a cold mile march past piles of coal to the chain and barbed wire fence that surrounds the site of the proposed incinerator.
But as students talk about the pollution in their community, the class where all the kids had asthma, and the neighbors who have died from cancer,
there is an echo of another voice whispering from the past. Rachel Carson (Hopkins MA, 1932) pointed out the effects of chemicals on the ecosystem in her book, Silent Spring, a hauntingly beautiful love letter and requiem to the world. She urged us to realize that as part of nature, we too, taste the effects of the poisons we spread.

So when Destiny Watford worries that the incinerator could aggravate her mother’s asthma and when Michael Graham worries that people will be killed for profit, it is clear that these new voices will send their echoes into the future just as Carson did.
Our buildings, roads and universities often bear the names of those who have built and gone before. We travel on and through them to our destinations.
But it’s the invisible avenues of thought, practice and conscience that guide us best through our lives and toward our future.

At the dark end of the road, these voices from our past offer us light and compass to illuminate and choose our path.
They beat within our hearts and connect us hand in hand with those who went before and those who will follow.
The students, teachers and community of Benjamin Franklin High School are learning and marching together, shouting and singing their care for each other and their world.

Who will hear their echoes?

Questioning Energy Answers: The best speech I’ve heard this year.

Excerpted from a speech by Kelly Klinefelter Lee, a teacher at Benjamin Franklin High School on December 18th, 2013. She spoke to a group of students and citizens protesting the planned construction of the largest incinerator in the United States in a Baltimore neighborhood already among the most polluted areas in the country. You can see video of her speech and the protest at www.coolgreenschools.com.

The American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “The only freedom of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence, that is to say freedom of observation and of judgment exercised on behalf of purposes that are intrinsically worthwhile.”

When you come to school here at Ben (Benjamin Franklin High School) your teachers work to make you critical thinkers. Yes, reading and writing and calculating are important.. but we are also preparing you to be voters and parents and community members and maybe even someday, office holders.

I’d argue that our most important goal as teachers in a democratic nation is to teach you to use your intelligence and your skills to understand your world, to analyze the problems you observe in your community, to evaluate the decisions being made by your leaders and to use your voices to object when you object.
There is much to object to in the case of this incinerator. If built it would bring hundreds of trucks of trash imported from other counties and states into this community every single day. That trash will burn and turn out mercury, and lead, greenhouse gases and particulate matter into the air that we breathe. As young critical thinkers, you are looking at this situation and asking the right questions.

Aren’t there better and cleaner ways to make power for our city?
Don’t we owe our earth better stewardship?
And why is the incinerator coming to our neighborhood?
You students know that the children who will breathe the incinerators pollution are already asked to bear a bigger burden than most. You know that the children of this community are more likely to be food insecure, more likely to be housing insecure, more likely to be the victims of crime than other children in Maryland. You know that the children in this community have been disproportionately affected by economic crisis and by government cuts. You know that the children in of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay go to under resourced and underfunded public schools and you know, Destiny, you just told us that these children already breathe some of the dirtiest air in Maryland and that their young bodies pay a horrible price for this. So this is not just an environmental issue. It is a social justice issue.

It is a moment when our learning community has to ask our leaders– we must– why does this incinerator belong here, why does it belong here, in this community?
This is a cause that is intrinsically worthwhile to which we must develop our minds and our hearts and our best efforts. Students, thank you for sharing your time and passion in the service of your community.
We are blessed by your offerings and we are grateful for your leadership.

Interviews with Protestors of Energy Answers Incinerator

Interviews with Destiny Watford, graduate of Benjamin Frankin High School, Charles Graham, student at Benjamin Franklin High School and Mike Ewall, Director of Energy Justice Network at the protest march against the planned Energy Answers Incinerator on a site one mile from the High School. Students said that the plant would add pollution to their industrial neighborhood which is already one of the most polluted areas in the country.

Energy Answers Questioned. Why Students Are Fighting a Planned Incinerator Near their School.

Benjamin Franklin High School teacher, Kelly Klinefelter Lee thanks students for their critical thinking skills and citizenship as they continue to study and object to the proposed Energy Answers Incinerator. The proposed incinerator would be built on property a mile from the school and would burn waste including car tires and car parts from Maryland and other states. Curtis Bay is an industrial neighborhood in Baltimore that is already among the most polluted areas in the country.

Protest March Against Energy Answers Incinerator

Students at Benjamin Franklin High School lead protest of the Energy Answers Incinerator planned for construction at a site a mile from the school. Students fear that the incinerator will bring waste including car parts and car tires from other other states and will add lead, mercury and fine particulate pollution to their neighborhood that already ranks as one of the most polluted areas in the country.