Heroes of the Week: 2020 Brower Youth Award Winners

Images courtesy of the Earth Island Institute

The New Leaders Initiative of Earth Island Institute recently announced the recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards–the premier environmental youth award in the county.

This year’s winners span the North American continent, from Mexico to Canada and throughout the United States, demonstrating the importance of working on environmental issues across borders and unifying our efforts to protect the planet and fight for justice.

I see these young winners as guides, pushing and pulling us forward as they imagine new ways of environmental mobilization,” said Mona Shomali, director of the New Leaders Initiative. “They galvanize people to reach their highest selves.”

Earth Island Institute has been hosting the awards program through its New Leaders Initiative (NLI) program and in honor of the organization’s founder, legendary environmentalist David Brower.

This year’s winners (and Our Daily Planet’s Heroes of the Week) are:

Danielle Boyer, 19, Troy, Michigan. Ojibwe youth Danielle Boyer has been working to increase STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education accessibility and affordability through innovative programs that promote technical competency and develop a tangible love for our Earth. Her organization, The STEAM Connection, prioritizes work with communities of color, particularly Indigenous communities, providing free classes and events on recycling, innovation, and sustainable design.

Alexandra Collins, 16, Hinsdale, Illinois. In 2018, Alexandra Collins discovered that for 30 years, industrial sterilization company Sterigenics had been emitting high levels of ethylene oxide (EtO) — a gas that is a known carcinogen — near homes and schools in her neighborhood in Hinsdale, Illinois, which suffers from a cancer rate nearly nine times the national average. Collins and her sister co-founded Students Against Ethylene Oxide (SAEtO), which harnesses the energy of young people to fight for a ban of ethylene oxide emissions, particularly near schools and residential areas.

Haana Edenshaw, 16 Haida Gwaii. A member of the Tsitts Gitanee clan of the Haida Nation on Haida Gwaii, Haana Edenshaw is one of 15 Canadian youth suing the Canadian government for its contributions to climate change. Edenshaw has been an environmental justice and Indigenous rights activist for much of her life, organizing climate strikes. In 2019, she spoke alongside Greta Thunberg at a rally in Vancouver, and she delivered a speech in the Haida language’s Masset dialect at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Diego Arreola Fernández, 18, Mexico City, Mexico. Diego Arreola Fernández created Green Speaking in 2019 after learning about the devastating consequences of plastic pollution and excessive consumerism at the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp in Vancouver, Canada, last year. His campaign uses in-school engagement, social media, and motivational videos to encourage children, schools, and businesses in Mexico to fight plastic pollution by modifying their habits, policies, and strategies.

Chander Payne, 18, Bethesda, Maryland. After noticing a lack of fresh produce at his school in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2016, Chander Payne connected his school food pantry with a local rooftop farm, and began delivering 20 pounds of fresh produce to the pantry each week. That summer, he founded Urban Beet farm to help marginalized youth grow food, and invited young people from the Washington DC–based Homeless Children’s Playtime Project to grow and harvest vegetables there.

Isabella Wallmow, 20, Andover, Minnesota. While volunteering with incarcerated youth at a juvenile detention center in Warrenville, Illinois, Isabella Wallmow came to realize that the youth needed healing, not punishment. In 2018, with support from enthusiastic detention center staff and the Resiliency Institute, which uses holistic, community-oriented permaculture design to transform suburban communities, Wallmow launched the Seeds for Change Garden Program that creates a safe, healing space for incarcerated youth and equips them with marketable skills.

While the Brower Youth Awards is NLI’s flagship event, NLI’s core goal is to engage, grow, and support young environmental activists all year round so that they can reach the highest version of themselves. NLI provides youth with several other programs throughout the year, including fellowships, microgrants, mentorship, networking events, and access to resources and relationships that will help them lead and sustain successful campaigns and projects.

More information about the winners and the Brower Youth Awards can be found here.

The six award winners will be honored at a two-part free virtual event (RSVP here) on October 15 and 20.

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