by Karen Monahan, Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer
I wanted to take a moment and share my personal reflection on the Sierra Club Environmental Justice (EJ) program and Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM) Earth Day celebration. Often times, we define success by how many people attend our events, how many post cards are signed to promote the issue we are working on or if we had well known speakers, etc. These can be one measure to determine success and they are important.
For me, what determined success was to see a young Latina woman age 21 and her little sister age 11 show up and feel liked they belonged. This young lady has been in my life for about five years. Her family is from Mexico and they have dealt with more than many in the room could comprehend. I have watched this young lady grow in many ways and her curiosity about the world and social justice has grown as well. For the last few years, she asked me questions regarding social justice, shared information with me that she has learned and stated she wants to make a difference in this world. She has all the necessities one needs to make change. She is smart, talented and most important she has conviction for the injustice she sees around her. This young lady doesn’t have any kind of background in social justice; yet, she and her family deal with the effects of injustice everyday. She is shy, very quiet and, at times, unsure of herself or her place in this world. This should not be a reason to leave anyone behind in this movement. These are the kind of leaders we need to cultivate.
She took it upon herself to bring her little sister to this event. Something that would have seemed somewhat scary for her before. She sat and watched the Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc, Aztec dancers, took video and pictures of them. I could tell her spirit was moved. There was an instant connection with them. I sat back and admired her courage to show up. She didn’t just show up physically, she was there mentally and spiritually. Her spirit was opened up when she saw someone who shared somewhat of the same background, language, and skin color. To my surprise this young lady who sits back at seldom says much, walked outside, took a picture with the dancers and began speaking her native tongue with them. I had to hold a tear back when I witnessed this, I witnessed a leader in development.
Many may read this and not fully understand where I am coming from. To many it is easy to show up at an event. Most folks look like you, have the same educational background, speak the same language, etc. There are so many others who are natural born leaders who don’t share that luxury. If we are going to heal this earth and every human on this earth we must begin to think outside the box as to what defines success and the tools we use to reach folks. Are we leaving people behind? Are we missing that diamond in the rough? Are we creating space for all people to feel comfortable and show up and cultivate their innate leadership? It starts by spreading seeds and making sure we are their to cultivate and watch them grow. It may not happen by time we need our next big win on a campaign but we must incorporate this mentality that NO ONE is left behind when we do this work.
This event was a success on many levels, but the biggest success for me was watching a young woman and her little sister step out of their comfort zone and into a space that was somewhat foreign and find a connection that they could relate too. There is no doubt in my mind this young lady will be on the front lines in the future creating a world where there is peace and justice for all.