by Jet’aime Lewis, ATC Summit Coordinator

Putting Powerful Lessons Into Action

After an incredible first day of reflection and connection, I was blown away by the Emerging Leaders’ Summit team’s hard work, which brought the Summit to life. The bar was raised tenfold on day two. With the theme of action at the forefront, Michelle Mitchell inspired viewers to never give up on their journey to finding the way they want to impact the world. A powerful expression she said was, “do not let perfect be the enemy of good.” Day two brought some challenges, but ultimately what we were doing was good and that is what mattered. The energy that participants brought into day two was infectious as evident by the active chat box during Michelle’s speech (and many others).

The first two panel sessions focused on intersections of climate change, policy, and mapping through the lens of equity mapping case studies. The session, “Equity Mapping Case Studies for Creating Community Change,” brought together a diverse set of professionals including John Evangelista, Christen McNamara Watts, Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boake, and Lucy Crespo. The collaborative atmosphere and diversity in perspectives gave participants different ways to act and invest in their own communities.

The concurrent session, “Youth Outdoor Policy Playbook Discussion,” gave attendees an inside look at how organizations and their advocates are currently working in the field of policy. The down-to-earth panelists—Tanya Pappa, Leslie Sizemore, Kosis Ifeji, Celeste Kathleen, and Abe Rosenberg— brought a fresh and personal perspective on how and why they got involved in their work. The afternoon focused on skill-based sessions that built off those discussions. Geographic Information System (GIS) 101 and Storymapping 101 were brought to us by Wil Tollefson and Andrew Joyner of East Tennessee State University (ETSU). Both sessions gave participants an intro course to the world of mapping and geospatial sciences with real-life examples.

“Intersections of Environmental Justice and Climate Change: Perspectives and Tools for Achieving Justice” brought together a powerhouse panel of female leaders including Dr. Fatemah Shafiei, Samantha Shattuck, Oforiwaa Pee Agyei-Boakye, Katie Allen, and Allie Thompson. The discussion centered on the presenters’ current line of work, their path in getting there, and how they can collaborate. In discussing environmental justice, Dr. Shafiei summarized that “environmental justice is more holistic than just an environmental movement. It merges civil rights, environmental, and economic and social justice movements.” Attendees were challenged to identify which intersections are important to them and to align their work intentionally in those areas. Specific ways to get involved in community action on the A.T. was discussed in “Action on the Appalachian Trail” led by Alivia Acosta and Leanna Joyner.

Following a brief Mindful Movement Break, we began one of our most attended and moving sessions with Jay Levy and Trey Adcock called, “Climate and Tribal Youth.” Jay and Trey shared the importance of involving Indigenous youth in climate action and environmental solutions. In many communities, youth are seen as “medicine,” the way forward to healing the land. They reminded us that Indigenous groups have been here long before colonists and that we can learn how to steward the land from those that are here today. Both speakers implored us to be mindful of the land we walk on and to understand the history of those landscapes. Trey emphasized that learning is just one step to showing value and respect to Native people, but the follow through on that knowledge is just as important.

The last sessions of the day included a youth-led group known as the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) Changemakers, who spoke during “Beyond the Climate Crisis: The Journey to Environmental Justice.” The panelists included Kayla Tawa, Marissa Howdershelt, Kaliko Kalāhiki, and Aniya Butler. Their session focused on introducing us to the work CLASP is doing, including a project entitled, “A New Deal for Youth.” The team offered three main themes to take with us on our own journeys within environmental justice – holding systems and people accountable, maintaining personal well-being and a healthy environment, and rethinking our relationship to nature. While Aniya couldn’t be there in person, she tied the panel together with her moving spoken word poetry.

Alongside the youth panel were ATC’s own panel of staff and partners including Katie Allen, Aaron Troncoso, Kat Lyons, and Marian Orlousky. This panel, entitled “East Coast Climate Corridor: An Approach to Climate Action and Conservation in the A.T. Landscape,” walked participants through direct and intentional actions the ATC and its partners are taking to help make the A.T. part of a climate-resilient corridor. Participants remarked on how informative the session was and appreciated the data, keen insights, and intentional approaches towards landscape protection that were shared by the panelists.

Our final session of the day was in two parts: beginning with an interactive brainstorming session called #JusticeLabs and followed by a closing keynote from activist Sophia Kianni. #JusticeLabs was an intimate group that came together to discuss how they could review what was learned within the last two days and identify real-time action items they could take home to their communities. Sophia brought everyone together in a relatable and timely keynote on how she found her “why” and the importance of being persistent in the chances you take. Her tagline of going from “apathy to action” seemed fitting after the stagnant and isolating 18 months that many of us have experienced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants were graciously instructed that the best path to take is the one that is authentically you.

While I had my initial reservations about how an online space could spark connections and action with complete strangers, I was so thankful to be proven wrong over the first two days of the ELS. Without realizing it, the long hours leading up to the event were exactly what I needed to jumpstart my own desires to become involved in my community. I could feel my cheeks cramping from smiling so much during these sessions, and my chest warmed from the positivity and gratitude shared within the virtual space. My gratitude is extended to everyone involved in the process, and I am so thankful to have shared space with such powerful and generous individuals.

Want to know what the Emerging Leaders’ crew is up to? Keep an eye out for upcoming occasions, as well as a library of past events and resources by following Trailway News.

Didn’t get a chance to see all of the sessions? Click here for a few session highlights!