By Eelisa Jones
NEW YORK CITY – Six representatives of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Milwaukee Youth Council traveled to New York City last week to attend the largest climate awareness demonstration in U.S. history. Aqueel Scott, 16, Laron Sharodd Dixon, 15, Damion Harris, 14, Jacquese Day, 14, Richard Matthews, 17, and Dabion Parks, 11, undertook the 20-hour journey to the People’s Climate Convergence and March from Friday Sept. 19 to Sunday Sept. 21.
Vice President and Chair of Education for the Wisconsin Conference NAACP, Wendell J. Harris, Sr., invited the young men to New York to offer them insight into the climate change movement.
“It is my responsibility,” said Harris, “as Chair of the Education Committee… to educate our members of the Youth Council on environmental justice, so they can know how to continue to fight and why they are fighting.”
The People’s Climate Convergence and March took place in an effort to bring public and official attention to various issues surrounding climate justice. The events attracted more than 100 world leaders and about 300,000 national and international participants.
Harris and the Youth Council representatives took time to sit down with the Milwaukee Courier on Saturday night to discuss the experiences and observations they had gathered in New York during the two days leading up to the march.
“I’ve never been to a march before,” said Richard when asked why he came to New York. “This is my first time being invited to a march that stands for something, so I had to take that experience.” Richard attends Transition High School on 27th St. and North Ave..
Aqueel, another student from Transition High School, said that he looked forward to fighting against the systemic corruption that has damaged neighborhoods and natural environments across the nation.
In addition to the opportunity to participate in a justice movement, the Youth Council representatives also got a chance to explore the streets New York City – the eighth largest city in the world and the most populated in the United States.
Laron (James Madison Academic Campus) and Jacquese (West Allis Central High School) said the past two days had provided them with a number of firsts.
“It’s an incredible experience to be in New York,” said Jacquese. “I’ve never been here before. Seeing all new things… the towers, the historical sights… It’s amazing.”
The group also got a glimpse into the cultural practices of the indigenous people who had gathered in New York to protect their native lands. Prior to their interview, Harris and the representatives had attended a native water ceremony that left an impression on the young men. Members of the group agreed that seeing the native tribes come together to celebrate the element of water was a moving experience.
The weekend was filled with scheduled lectures and workshops about environmental issues ranging from the damaging affects of hydraulic fracturing, or oil fracking, to the pressing need for solidarity in preventing large corporations from continuing practices that put minority communities at risk.
The workshops ended with a final convergence meeting which the group attended.
“Usually, I would go to an event and not listen,” said Damion (Golda Meir High School). “But [at the convergence], it actually connected.”
Dabion (Milwaukee Scholars Middle School), the youngest member of the group, said that his participation in the trip had allowed him to see firsthand what it is like to be part of a historical organization like the NAACP.
He said that the trip had been fun, but “the real experience [would] take place during the march.”
The group departed from lower Manhattan’s Saint Judson’s Memorial Church on Sunday morning to participate in the march which led them along Central Park and through the center of Times Square.
The energy was overwhelmingly positive and resembled that of a New Orleans street celebration.
Although the march lasted over five hours, the representatives were visibly pleased with their accomplishment when they reached the finish line at 11th Ave. and 24th St. where they gathered for one last group photo.