• April 22nd, 2024
  • Monday, 10:07:01 AM

Students Take Action for Environmental Justice and School Safety

Environmental Advocates on the lawn of the Colorado State Capitol on April 5, 2023. Photo: Orlando Moreno for El Semanario)


By Victoria Acuña


Youth from high schools all around the Denver metro area gathered last week at the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) Protect Our Future! event, a student environmental justice advocacy day designed to educate youth on climate activism.


Colorado students from Aurora Central High School, Sheridan High School, Empower Community High School, Environmental Learning for Kids, and MSU Denver learned about current climate bills in Colorado—SB23-213 and HB23-1257—sponsored  by environmental organizations such as Conservation Colorado.


Renee Millard-Chacón, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Womxn From the Mountain, opened the event by addressing the significance of environmental justice.



Students lobbied at the Colorado State Capitol on April 5, 2023; young environmental activists (left) and youth advocating against gun violence led a walkout (right). (Photo: Karen Gutiérrez / El Semanario)


“Environmental racism has started with stolen land and stolen resources,” she said. “As of right now, the United Nations has officially ruled in the Geneva Convention that countries are responsible for environmental racism. That means the U.S. is responsible for how they’ve treated every BIPOC community, from stealing our resources, to redlining, to gentrification.”


Millard-Chacón encouraged those in attendance to continue their environmental efforts and challenged the youth to come together and create a monumental movement.


“What I’m asking of all of you is to move with awareness. Move gently, be educated…Most of all, I need y’all to step up. I need you to have ganas and come and join us, because we can’t do this alone,” added Millard-Chacón.


Patricia Ferrero, Leadership Development Manager, for Protégete, explained to the students what it means to be a constituent.


“There’s a difference between being a constituent and being a voter. Constituents are much more than just voters, they’re anyone who lives in the district. And all of you, regardless of whether you can vote or not, are bosses,” she said.


Patricia Ferrero, Leadership Development Manager, Protégete, speaks to youth at an environmental advocacy training on April 5, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. / (Photo: Victoria Acuña / El Semanario)


“We want to teach our family and friends how to get involved as well. Today, you guys are doing this [lobbying]. Tomorrow, you can tell your caregivers and friends how easy it was. Today, we are giving you tools and resources to take home and do with it what you want,” explained Ferrero.


After the advocacy training session, the group of students marched to the Colorado State Capitol from the Auraria Campus. As they approached the Capitol, there were several other high school students on the west steps of the building. These students were participating in a national walkout against gun violence, after a series of gun violence incidents at East High School that led Denver Public Schools to reinstate armed school resource officers in schools.


Both groups stood on the steps of the Capitol to hold up their signs and join each other in chants for both gun violence and the environment. There was a certain level of excitement that was felt as the groups came together. During the training day at MSU, students were quite shy and reserved. But when they saw that there was another youth group at the Capitol, there was a sudden change in energy, as the groups cheered for each other.


“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will become the sacrifice.”
Jachary, Student, Empower Community High School


After spending time together, most of the walkout students entered the State Capitol. The environmental group of students regrouped on the Capitol steps for a rally and speeches. For many of the students, they felt and understood the importance and significance of youth in attendance at the rally.


“My parents come from El Salvador, they migrated to the U.S. for a better future for their kids. Not only was their government corrupt, they realized the U.S. government was also corrupt. So it’s up to me as their daughter to be their voice because they’re unable to vote. It’s my job to be able to be here [at the State Capitol] and represent people who look like me. I’m here to be a voice for my family, friends, and future and past generations,” said Erika, a student from Empower Community High School in Aurora, Colorado.


“It’s important for me to speak for our generation, for us to actually take initiative instead of sitting back and letting things happen to us. Because like our advisor said, some things may not affect us now, but in 3 or 5 years it will affect us majorly,” added Saison, another student from Empower Community High School.


“This day is to demonstrate to youth that they have a purpose and that their voice does matter,” said Rudionna Garza, a teacher and advisor at the high school. “As an advisor, my job is to holistically help students develop who they are. This opportunity gives them real life experience, to learn how something becomes law and how they as constituents have a lot of power, not only now but in the future. I think this is an investment in our youth and future, as well as an opportunity for healing for our ancestors.”


“I came here today because I want to change the law. I see all the horrible things that have been created and all the laws favoring the white majority. My parents are from El Salvador and we live in a horrible neighborhood where there’s guns and violence and all that stuff, and we can’t afford to move because the rent is so high. It’s sad how much favoritism is in our laws, when we should be equals,” said Paola, an Empower High School student.


Jachary, an Empower HS student, wanted to leave folks with a quote. “If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will become the sacrifice.”


(Cover photo features Colorado student Elizabeth Reyes.)



Victoria Acuña is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.