Youth of Color Explore Environmental Justice & Faith at Camp

6/11/2014
By Pam Arifian

SHARON (06/11/2014) --"I felt at peace and closer to God," reported one teen about her experience at the Environmental Justice For All! Retreat, held at Silver Lake the first weekend in June.

With support from UCC and Justice Witness Ministries Neighbors in Need Campaign and a generous donation, Silver Lake hosted the first Environmental Justice For All (EJ4A)! Retreat for Youth of Color. The Retreat was guided by the UCC Environmental Justice Train-the-Trainer Workshops curriculum for adults, adapted for youth.

While future EJ4A Retreats will be open to youth regardless of race, ethnic or cultural background, we specifically invited youth from communities of color to this inaugural event, which was supported by both the CTUCC and MAUCC Conferences, as part of the regional initiatives of Environmental Justice faith in action. Recognizing that communities of color have historically borne a disproportionate environmental burden, this Retreat provided an opportunity specifically for youth of color to come to camp, learn and lead conversation on environmental justice. No previous experience or knowledge was required ? only a mind open to new ideas, and a willingness to commit to a just and sustainable future for all of God?s Creation.

Seven teenagers from Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church (New Haven), Faith Congregational Church (Hartford), First Cathedral (Bloomfield), and the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (Hartford) joined facilitator Pam Arifian, chaplain Rev. Tamara Moreland, and chaperones Keyairra Wright and Brian Lapis for a weekend full of important discussion, fun and transformation.

For all of the youth participants, it was their first time at Silver Lake, first time at camp, first time for some in such a rural area. For many, it was a new experience to be discussing environmental issues at all.

As is often the case at Silver Lake, the group shifted from the sometimes awkward, not-so-sure-about-this feeling to forming a comfortable community together very quickly. The group created safe space in covenant with each other based on our own visions and needs for the weekend, and agreed to widen our comfort zones by living into the challenge of the new knowledge, experiences and perspectives we were sharing together.

With the help of videos, a binder full of resources, and, as Rev. Tamara said, "allowing space to let God in, " the group explored the issues of environmental racism, climate change, fracking, pollution and more from the lens of a faith-based themes of gratitude, humility, responsibility, justice and community.

"I was shocked at the severity and prevalence of environmental injustice here around my own community. I felt a gradual transition from surprise, anger and personal guilt to new understanding, compassion, and motivation to improve my own impact within environmental justice, " said Keyairra Wright, one of the group's chaperones.