If you believe in the power of younger generations to change the world, you’ll be deeply inspired by what transpired in Chicago this August. For four days, twenty-one young adult activists from across North America gathered to gain skills, practices, spiritual grounding, and relationships to equip them for long-haul climate justice work. Their time together was called GROWGrounded and Resilient Organizer’s Workshop, hosted by the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice and funded by you!

“As activists we need to develop our own spiritual practices and shared spaces that ground us in our deepest principles. We need ways of acknowledging the increasingly hard truths of the climate crisis. We need the boldness to confront our privilege, engage with more marginalized communities, and empower diverse leadership. Of course we need to be constantly refining our organizing skills and developing creative new methods. And last but certainly not least in my book, we need more singing!” said Tim DeChristopher, one of the organizers, in his invitation to the training.

Expert trainers and national/international activists Elandria Williams, Joshua Kahn Russell, and David Solnit led participants in exploring core concepts of how social justice change begins and is sustained. UU ministers Jennifer Nordstrom, Elizabeth Nguyen and Fred Small helped lead worship, reflection, and an exploration of music as a tool for movement-building. Tim DeChristopher and Aly Tharp, coordinator of Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice, supported participants in discerning next steps for taking the training home and into their communities.

The time was organized under four major arcs of content woven together throughout the four days:

  • Climate Justice: history, principles, facts, and stories specific to this framework
  • Organizing and Skills: theories and tools for social movements
  • Personal and Theological Grounding: cultural traditions and exchange, worship, music, and discussion about anti-oppression grounding
  • Planning and Action: power analysis, skills-practice, and opportunities for action and leadership through Unitarian Universalist Young Adults for Climate Justice

“Along with organizing skills, the GROW training gave me a space to truly examine and express my despair over climate change, the deep kind I felt at the beginning of the summer,” said participant Amelia Diehl. “Recently I’ve felt desperate, frantic and apocalyptic—but also revolutionary, that something big would have to change. But I didn’t really feel like I could commit as much to the movement as I’d wanted. Now I feel connected again to a community and to a movement.”

It was particularly powerful for the training’s attendees and leaders alike that this gathering coincided with the demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, commemorating the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death. The juxtaposition offered immediate context for how racial justice provides the backbone for climate justice. Not only did it deepen attendees’ commitments to these intersections—or as Amelia put it, “to care about climate justice is to care about anti-racism, feminism, anti-capitalism, anti-injustice, and anti-oppression, and to fight for liberation”—but it also allowed space for grief at the losses we are suffering due to value systems that devalue life.

At this training it was evident that young people are actively living out intersectional organizing, so vital to collective liberation and the evolution of the environmental movement. Participants also discussed the fact that their lives and futures depend upon a successful climate justice movement. But without a strategy for shifting power and resources, impact will be limited. So young adults trying to catalyze total shifts in the world need the kind of training and tools that GROW offered.

These young adults are the future and present of our faith-filled movement for climate justice. Supporting young adult leadership for climate justice is critical! This support will continue through the UU College of Social Justice—which is laying the groundwork for a second version of this training for the summer of 2016 and is also exploring a version for high school-aged youth—and through UU Young Adults for Climate Justice.

You can be a part of this vital work. If you are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, join UU Young Adults for Climate Justice. If you are any age at all, donate (via UU Ministry for Earth) to support this network. Form cross-generational relationships in your faith community and talk about climate justice, and build partnerships with frontlines communities and organizations. Organize a worship service in your congregation, if you are part of one, with a young adult climate justice activist speaker, as part of the 100 Services campaign.

“I think I might have learned more about myself and climate change during the GROW training than in my years of calling myself an environmentalist, and in ways I could never have predicted,” reflected Amelia (read her whole reflection). Thank you to everyone who made this training possible!

Many thanks to cameron whitten, Aly Tharp, and Jimmy Betts for the photos above.