Students Take on Climate Change at Young Leaders Summit

Maia Berthier

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The organizing team of Young Leaders Summit 2019 cheers in celebration of their hard work.

On Monday, Nov. 4, the second annual Young Leaders Summit was held at Pinecrest Gardens. The students that founded YLS (Coral Gables Senior High Alumni Nikita Leus-Oliva and William Breslin) passed the torch on to their 2019 organizing team. Among many others, the board included juniors Aya Hamza, Daniela Parra del Riego, and Samantha Gazda, as well as sophomore Benjamin Pla and senior Daniela Berrospi. The main goal of YLS is to get students more civically engaged and aware of the current climate crisis. This year, around 175 students attended, including groups from Doral Academy and Gulliver Preparatory Academy on field trips.

Maia Berthier
Gables students, as well as those from across the county, gathered in Pinecrest Gardens for this event.

The previous year, YLS was centered around the theme of gun control. This was mainly in light of the mass shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that occurred earlier that year, which was one of the last straws that called for nationwide action on gun reform. However, with the rising popularity of the Greta Thunberg-inspired Fridays for Future school strikes and the mass realization by youth about the climate crisis, the team believed that it was best fit for the students attending to obtain a greater insight on the current dilemma.

“Last year I could not go to YLS, and I am so glad I went this year. I was really interested in the focus this year, fighting the climate crisis, and it was amazing to see so many passionate, driven people my

Benjamin Pla
A representative from Sierra Club discusses climate change in relation to the local surroundings.

age come together and fight for change,“ sophomore Rachel Dopico said.

Although the event was only one day, the organizing team worked weekly approximately three months prior to the event. Nicole Markus, the head organizer, worked with her board of 15 high school students to arrange every aspect of the event. The students raised funds, found sponsors, contacted potential speakers, and found the venue. The organizing team also had to contact activism groups across Miami-Dade County to table at the Civic Engagement fair within the summit.

Maia Berthier
Nicole Markus, the head organizer, gave opening remarks to all of the attendees.

“I had a blast on the organizing committee. All of the committee members were really passionate about boosting teen climate change awareness, which really made the weekly calls to organize so much better,” sophomore Benjamin Pla said.

At the beginning of YLS, students settled in the main bowl of Pinecrest Gardens, which is similar to an outdoor auditorium. There, the head organizer Nicole Janem gave her opening remarks and introduced the special guest, John-Paul Mejia. Mejia is a youth climate activist that led a walkout in Miami Beach Senior High and has held a major role in Miami’s climate activism since. After this, the students attending traveled to their breakout sessions across the gardens, which were led by groups such as Debris Free Oceans and GenCLEO, and local officials such as Mayor Corradino of Pinecrest.

Nicole Markus
Samantha Gazda and several other representatives for GenCLEO led a breakout session about how getting involved is important to activism.

After this, students were provided with free lunch catered by Evo and were able to visit the civic engagement fair, in which organizations like Students Demand Action and Fridays for Future tabled to advocate for their respective causes. Once this break was over, the attendees went to two more sessions of their choice to further improve their knowledge of climate change, environmental legislation and processes as such. To close the event, the keynote speaker, Caroline Lewis of the CLEO Institute, gave an inspirational speech to the students about the importance of climate justice and the current movements as they relate to the future of our world. After attending the second annual YLS, students left with more knowledge and insight on the climate crisis and ways to use their voice and speak up for what they believe in.