SB’17 Detroit’s Youth Impact Project: Thinking, Making, Doing

Excitement has been building in and around Detroit for the Sustainable Brands (SB) conference convening later this month. This excitement was evident two nights ago at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for the pre-conference reception of the SB’17 Detroit conference. Out of the numerous local and global champions of sustainability at the event, two individuals particularly impressed many of the attendees. Sabrena Jackson and Anna-Marie McCoy are green school coordinators for the Youth Energy Squad (YES), a program under EcoWorks, which provides sustainability-focused service learning projects for Detroit youth, thus helping to shape the next generation of green leaders. Through YES’s work, schools and households that have participated in their program have saved over $3,000,000 million in utility costs.

It was this catalyst that drew the Erb Institute, Sustainable Brands, and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) to partner with YES to build a youth impact project for the SB’17 Detroit conference. Elana Fox and I have been working together on developing this initiative for a few months now. The impact project will create space for youth in the City of Detroit who are passionate about sustainability to attend SB’17 and interact with SB members and other attendees. The project will expose students to a professional conference and potential career pathways, and it also aims to expand the knowledge-sharing opportunities beyond current SB members.

This year’s youth impact project will provide 20 students who work with YES admission to the conference and on-site mentorship opportunities with current sustainability professionals. The participants are high school students at Detroit’s West Side Academy of Information Technology and Cyber Security. Through the leadership of West Side Academy’s principal, Andrea Ford-Ayler, and teachers such as Dr. Tamyra Rhodes-O’Neil, students are creating opportunities out of challenges with an eye on sustainability. For example, students in Dr. Rhodes-O’Neil’s class have created community gardens whose produce has been served at the school cafeteria, and, furthermore, they are creating sleeping pads for the homeless that are made from plastic grocery bags.

Sustainable Brands, the Erb Institute, DWEJ and YES are all honored to have West Side Academy students attending the SB conference. While the students will benefit greatly from current sustainability practitioners in both the public and private sectors during the conference, the learning will be reciprocated. While they are our green leaders of tomorrow, they are already thinking, making and doing work that is at the forefront of creating a more sustainable world.