Mona Shomali, Director, New Leaders Initiative,
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Susannah Lee, Program Coordinator, New Leaders Initiative
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Berkeley, CA (September 12, 2023) — Earth Island’s New Leaders Initiative announces the six recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards. The winners will be honored at an in-person ceremony at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, at Freight and Salvage in Berkeley, CA. This is the 24th year of the annual Brower Youth Awards, the premier environmental youth award in the country.
At a time of increasing environmental engagement by young people the world over, this year’s winners stand out for the ways they are trying to address diverse climate and environmental issues — from protecting oceans and rivers, supporting food sovereignty, tackling food waste, restoring coastal mangroves, improving equitable access to the outdoors, and fighting air pollution. Through innovative ideas, hard work, and collaborative leadership, all of the awardees are making differences that matter.
The focus for this year’s Brower Youth Awards, “Moving Forward Together,” is inspired by the proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
“This year’s theme is very apt because all of our winners are leaders of teams,” Mona Shomali, director of the New Leaders Initiative, said. “It is very inspiring to watch young people motivate their peers and elicit engagement in a way that adults cannot.”
Indeed, the winners’ projects offer a reminder that building a better world requires community and cooperation. Over the past few years, we have been heartened to see the growing number of youth-led climate organizations that demonstrate a willingness to work across differences and to make sure everyone has a chance to participate. New Leaders Initiative is honored to work with this year’s BYA cohort, which has so much to teach us.
For 24 years, Earth Island Institute, an environmental nonprofit based in Berkeley, California, has been hosting the Brower Youth Awards, named in honor of the organization’s founder, legendary environmentalist David Brower, through its New Leaders Initiative program. The New Leaders Initiative provides innovative programming to help build the capacity of young, emerging environmental activists throughout the United States. Every year the program awards, six young North-America-based activists a cash prize of $3,000.
This year’s winners are:
Maanit Goel, 17
Speaking up for orcas
Growing up in Washington State, Maanit Goel heard about the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas who are suffering a staggering decline in their food source, Chinook salmon, in the Snake River-Columbia River system.
In 2021, Goel established the Washington Youth Ocean & River Conservation Alliance (WYORCA) to mobilize young people around the decades-long movement to remove four dams on the lower Snake River, which experts say are impeding Chinook salmon migration. WYORCA now has nearly 30 youth volunteers who together have educated more than 6,000 students about the effects of the dams on Northwest ecosystems, spoken at over 20 congressional meetings, and coordinated workshops across state lines. The group’s work has been honored by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Katherine Martínez Medina, 21
Vieques, Puerto Rico
Promoting food sovereignty and mutual aid
Katherine Martínez Medina grew up in the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, watching sunsets on the most beautiful of beaches — beaches that have been used by the US Navy to test bombs for more than 60 years. Growing up in this toxic environment contaminated by heavy metals from the bombs, on an island that imports more than 90 percent of its food, spurred Medina to environmental activism at a young age.
In 2020, she got involved in La Colmena Cimarrona, a women-led, agriculture initiative. Formed in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s destruction of the island in 2017, the initiative seeks to achieve food sovereignty in Vieques, develop a local solidarity economy, and fight displacement and land speculation on the island. Medina — who is in charge of identifying community needs and liasing with grassroots organizations at the national and international level — has helped shape many of La Colmena Cimarrona’s efforts and build an oasis of hope.
Angelina Xu, 17
Tackling food waste at schools
As a middle school student, Angelina Xu recognized a paradox in her school system: hundreds of pounds of food were being thrown away each month while many students were dealing with food insecurity. So, in 2018, Xu started her county’s first food recovery and composting program for school cafeterias that collected and shipped unopened food to food banks and sent cafeteria food waste to local composting facilities. In 2021, she founded a nonprofit, Compostology, which has grown into a coalition of 35,000 students and school officials who manage 24 composting and food recovery programs at K-12 schools across Maryland.
In 2023 Compostology led a student campaign that helped pass SB 124, a state bill allocating $1.25 million in grant funding for K-12 schools to start their own composting and food recovery programs.
William Charouhis, 17
Advocating for mangrove restoration in coastal areas
After experiencing the impacts of climate change first hand when Hurricane Irma flooded Miami in 2017, Will Charouhis founded We Are Forces of Nature, a youth-led climate group that provides climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for coastal areas. During the pandemic lockdown, We Are Forces of Nature volunteers cleaned up six miles of mangrove roots along the Miami shoreline to regenerate growth. That effort led to A Million Mangroves initiative, which helps conserve mangroves through cleanups, tree plantings, and research aimed at improving planting success rates.
Charouhis is also researching mangrove species that can withstand ocean acidification and has shared findings at several United Nations forums. His organization has educated 2,500 youth in 16 countries on the benefits of protecting mangroves, and is involved in a collaborative effort to restore mangroves in Central Africa.
Riya Chandra, 16
Hastings-on-Hudson, New York
Getting Black and Brown girls outdoors
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Riya Chandra began to appreciate the benefits of hiking on her physical and emotional wellness. But she quickly noticed that she was often the only girl of color in the hiking groups she joined. She soon learned that outdoor spaces in the US have historically not been inclusive, and that families of color continue to face systemic barriers to accessing nature.
To address the lack of representation of girls of color in nature, in 2021, Chandra started Hiking Youth Program for Equity: Girls (HYPE: GIRLS) and began to arrange hikes, nature walks, and guest lectures for teenage girls of color in New York’s Westchester and Yonkers areas. HYPE: GIRLS focuses on building a safe, inclusive, and caring peer community that appreciates, benefits from, and gives back to nature. It also focuses on increasing interaction with nature as a way of coping and self-discovery, and hopes to create a passionate groundswell of young people who will fight to protect our outdoor spaces.
Muskan Walia, 21
Salt Lake City, Utah
Ushering in a clean energy transition in Utah schools
After graduating from a high school in Utah’s Davis County, a district that has some of the worst air pollution in the state, Muskan Walia made a commitment to work toward climate justice. In 2020, Walia helped launch the Davis School District’s first student-led Clean Energy Schools Campaign to get the school district to commit to a 100 percent clean electricity transition by 2030, and a transition in all energy sectors by 2040. Walia and her team wrote and helped pass a revised policy for energy efficiency for the district that received national recognition. The campaign has helped pass clean energy resolutions in several other Utah school districts as well.
Walia also helps lead the Utah Youth Environmental Solutions — a network of organizers and activists working to mobilize Utah youth for climate justice.
While the Brower Youth Awards is the New Leaders Initiative’s flagship event, the program’s core goal is to support young environmental activists throughout the year. New Leaders Initiative provides youth with several programs, including fellowships, microgrants, webinars, networking events, and access to resources and relationships that will help them lead and sustain successful campaigns and projects.
“The New Leaders Initiative program represents Earth Island’s commitment to supporting and growing the next generation of leaders in the environmental movement,” said Sumona Majumdar, CEO of Earth Island Institute. “We believe that resourcing youth and amplifying their voices are imperatives given that they face the ramifications of the choices we make today.”
Images and video clips of the winners are available to the media upon request. The winners are also available for interviews.
Note to editors: Photos of the award winners will be available upon request