By Danielle Elliott and Ashlea Brown
Environmental racism typically isn’t taught in high school science classes, and often the socio-political aspects of the climate crisis are left out of environmental science education altogether. One effort to fill this gap is Youth on Root, which supplements existing STEM education with a curriculum kit on environmental justice, a youth-directed conference program that brings California kids together, and an animated explanatory video series.
Candice Youngblood, UC Berkeley (‘15) and Berkeley Law (19’), founded Youth on Root, drawing on her own experience of coming from a frontline community in Los Angeles but not being exposed to the concept of environmental justice until taking an environmental health class in college. Frontline communities, often low-income and communities of color, face some of the most severe consequences of climate change. Neighborhoods like these are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, including disproportionate health disparities and impacts of pollution.
Youth on Root is designed for secondary education institutions, providing middle school and high school students with personal connections on environmental issues and the resources to take action to improve their own communities. The program promotes the concept of local communities speaking for themselves, increased diversity of voices in environmental decision-making, and ensuring that people of different backgrounds can participate and be heard. Youth on Root is less concerned with whether participants will ultimately work directly in environmental justice and is more focused on ensuring that students gain knowledge and understanding of the issues confronting communities subject to degraded environments.
Youth on Root in particular seeks to ensure an on-going voice for younger community members by assembling a youth advisory board, which consults on curriculum design reflective of the racial, ethnic, geographic and cultural diversity of its participants.
For more on Youth on Root as it develops, visit:
- The website, youthonroot.org, to donate and subscribe for email updates
- Youth on Root’s Instagram and Twitter accounts
- Iman Howard, Youth on Root Programs Advisor
- Candice Youngblood, Youth on Root Founder and President of the Advisory Council
Resources on environmental racism and environmental justice:
- EJnet.org/ej is an online resource hub that houses various documents that lay out a general background on environmental racism
- California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool: CalEnviroScreen 4.0 is a screening methodology that can be used to help identify California communities that are disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution. Listeners can type in an address to see how the pollution burden of that census tract ranks against other census tracts
Resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion:
Ms. Youngblood: One of Youth on Root’s big goals is not to ever push our vision of change on our youth participants, but to empower them to make their own visions of change come to life.
Ethan: That’s Candice Youngblood, founder of Youth on Root, a state-wide youth leadership program dedicated to helping young people bring environmental and climate justice to their communities and address local environmental impacts. Candice’s vision for empowering impacted youth and eradicating environmental racism is personal, stemming from her own educational experiences coming from a low-income community near Los Angeles.
Ms. Youngblood: I didn’t learn about the connection between diesel pollution and asthma rates until I got to Berkeley, which I think is one of the issues that I’ve become sort of passionate about combating is just this sort of gatekeeping of this information in elite institutions.
Ethan: This revelation inspired Candice to ]pursue a career in environmental justice lawyering. Now she’s translating that knowledge into Youth on Root. It has two programs, a curriculum kit to supplement existing STEM education and a youth-led conference where students from across California can learn best practices and from each other.
Ms. Youngblood: We also want our program to always be for youth, by youth.
Ethan: For information on how to get involved in Youth on Root and for more climate solutions, go to climatebreak.org or wherever you get your podcasts. I’m Ethan Elkind, and this was Climate Break.