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Laila Mansour, Youth Press Team 2023

“Changing Lives One Project at a Time”

The 12th Annual NY Sun Works Youth Conference marked the first in-person conference since lockdown. Of course, the Javits Center was bustling with excited students and teachers eager to present, listen, learn, and explore topics related to sustainability. Alan Steel, the CEO of the New York Convention Center Operating Corporation, opened the conference with an inspirational message: changing policy changes lives. Many students often wonder how someone like them, with all their youth and inexperience, can actually affect the society in which they live. However, presentations by these very students, as well as those by professionals in the field, emphasized not only the ability but also the importance of youth involvement in policy making in order to, as Steel explained, change lives.

Guest speakers such as Qiana Mickie and Kaela Mainsah encouraged students to get involved by sharing their own inspiring stories. Mickie, the first Executive Director of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Urban Agriculture, developed her passion for urban agriculture because of her son, who didn’t enjoy his lunch at his school in Harlem. Mickie, who grew up in the Bronx, realized that the same food options were not available in different neighborhoods. This furthered her interest in food justice, which she now gets to promote in her position at the Office of Urban Agriculture. Mickie especially emphasized the need for great doers, which she believes can be found in the next generation of young leaders today. Kaela Miansah, the Vice President for Environmental Justice for the New York Power Authority, was also especially passionate about food justice, illuminating the detrimental effects of food deserts not only across the country but even here in our own state. People need to have access to healthy food and in order to make the shift to a cleaner and more sustainable future. 

Many young scientists working toward that goal presented at the conference. A group of students from P.S. 181 Brooklyn studied how the distance of light affected the growth of plants with the goal of helping farmers find quicker, but sustainable, farming methods. Another group of young students from P.S. 214 Michael Friedsam tried to find a replacement for rockwool, a core ingredient to many hydroponic systems, for when rockwool is unattainable. These students are making great strides in solving some very pressing environmental issues. 

The students at the conference, both presenting and observing, showcased that this next generation both wants to and is fully capable of addressing environmental and justice issues that the world continues to face. They are conducting the research that leads to policy changes. Furthermore, the guest speakers explained how they are currently addressing and amending policies. By Alan Steel’s logic, we are already well on our way to changing lives. The question that remains, then, is not one of “how” or “what” but rather one of “when.” Thankfully, the answer is quite simple: we can and must start today, with no effort too small, to create a greener, cleaner tomorrow. 


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