Youth Activists You Should Know: Introducing the Youth Advisory Board

Cameron Katz, ACE Intern


January 26, 2023

ACE’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) began as a project proposed by ACE’s Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) team to elevate youth leadership and youth perspective within the organization and more fully live into ACE’s mission to empower youth. We launched our inaugural YAB in June 2021 with 10 members representing our key program states (FL, NC, WI, OH, PA). Members provide regular input, collaboration, and engagement with ACE programs, campaigns, and internal work like ACE’s JEDI Strategic Plan.

We’re now in our second year of the Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and each member has a unique Point Person role that supports ACE program areas, the JEDI team, and ACE’s Board of Directors. Through our work with the YAB, we hope to elevate youth leadership and create a pathway for increased leadership within ACE. It’s essential that our work aligns with what today’s youth needs to feel empowered. 

We can already see the important impact our YAB members are having on the organization and the broader ACE community as we work toward the goals of the YAB.  We’re excited to introduce you to our Youth Advisory Board members and share why they joined the climate movement!

Leilina Patel


I feel my involvement in the climate movement was much less inspirational than necessary. Living in Florida, I started to notice that my winters were getting shorter and the number and frequency of hurricanes greater. Attributing this to climate change, I realized that I needed to get involved. I didn’t necessarily feel this great passion for the issue the way I had for others, but I knew despite how I felt about it, climate change was still the most threatening issue, therefore, I prioritized it. My friend recommended the ACE Fellowship, and I’ve been involved ever since. I will say, I have only grown more passionate about climate change through the years.”

Drake Du


Growing up in Copley Township of the Akron metropolitan area, I found great joy in the outdoors. From indulging in the crisp wind that swept across my face as I biked in the neighborhood to breathing in the sweet scent of soil as I cared for my family’s garden, I cherished every moment out in nature. Only later would I learn that those years of play coincided with years of pollution. At the time, the Akron metropolitan area saw unhealthy levels of air pollution every other day on average. With climate change threatening to exacerbate this issue across the world, particularly among already marginalized communities, I soon realized that becoming a part of the climate movement was not an option but an obligation. As such, I view climate justice as an inseparable part of social justice, and I’m passionate about campaigning for both.”

Simara Vines


Going to school in Akron not only provided education, but also furthered my interest in knowing why we don’t learn certain aspects of what is going on around us. After realizing that there was so much we didn’t learn, I made it a mission to fill in the gaps; starting with climate change. I helped create ACE Akron which we participated in: education sessions about climate change and current events, sustainable clothing drives, and cleaning up local areas. Being able to positively impact my community shows that education make people more aware, I’m glad I’m in a position to help others!”

Pujitha Masireddy


Working with grassroots organizations in Chester, PA to raise awareness about the harms of the Covanta incinerator is what launched me to become more involved in the climate movement. Chester is a predominantly low-income community of color and the incinerator causes rampant air pollution and directly contributes to environmental racism. I experienced the power of community organizing and how environmental justice needs to be at the forefront of this movement.”

Cindy Le


“Growing up in a southeastern PA town targeted by large oil companies was a huge part of why I became involved in the climate movement. I had always loved sciences like biology and chemistry, but for a long time, I saw climate change as a purely chemical process of our oceans acidifying and our ozone depleting. As I got older, I became more aware of what was happening in my own backyard and understood how climate change had so many intersections with business, public health, agriculture, and more. The climate movement tied so many aspects of our changing world together while simultaneously tackling issues of equity, equality, and justice.”

Lissie Morales


“For as long as I can remember, my life has unceasingly been centered around strengthening my community and protecting the space in which I live. From watching the numerous wrongful deaths of Black and Brown people on TV or reading how some corporations relentlessly destroy the environment for mere profit, I’ve always used my voice to speak out against all systems of injustice.

The climate crisis affects the environment we exist in and the people who inhabit it, especially when BIPOC communities are the most vulnerable and often ignored voices. This is why I’m so passionate about climate change.

Climate justice for all is equitable, economic, and environmental justice for all communities, including those in the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. I see it as my job to elevate these voices if we genuinely want to see change. I take action within this movement by going into communities experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis and providing resources to amplify their voices and tackle the structures that oppress them.”

Gemma Gutierrez


I grew up in a primarily Mexicano community, where culture and communal style living was not only accepted but necessary. Immersed in a group who farmed, cooked, and learned with each other, I gained a sense of responsibility to those around me. We did not stand unaffected by the world around us, and from a young age the disparities we were facing became more evident. 

The neighborhood I grew up in used to be zoned for Industrial Factories, there wasn’t a single person I knew who didn’t live with several health conditions. We struggled to find affordable healthcare, and my father began to advocate for free health clinics closer to our area. He took me to events and brought me in on conversations that discussed racial injustices and the climate crisis in terms I’d never heard before. There I was introduced to climate justice, and how BIPOC were made more vulnerable and their concerned voices silenced.

From lead or mercury poisoned backyards to miles long pipelines contaminating water, the climate crisis affects all of our daily lives and safety. Amplifying the voices of those most affected is a responsibility and duty. Taking action by providing resources and deconstructing systems that cause harm will lead to change, change I need to see for my community and all those like it.”

Issac Smith


Even as a kid, I was always inspired by nature. I found a beauty in it that couldn’t be found elsewhere. I distinctly remember looking up at this big tree in my backyard wondering how old it was, what it was doing just sitting there, what lived nearby, and what else was in the backyard that I knew nothing about. I would play outdoors with my neighbors until we were all too tired to continue. I would swing on the playset and jump off to see how high I could reach. Then I learned that these simple things I enjoyed weren’t accessible to everyone. More relevant to me, these were things that, at some point, might not be easily enjoyed by kids in the very area where I grew up because of frequent heat advisories or an increase in severe storms.

I learned about these destructive changes in the environment in middle school. I started finding ways to take action (reduce, reuse, recycle) that I could implement in my day to day life. As I grew older I realized that simply recycling whatever waste I generated was not enough. So, I became involved in the climate movement to protect the planet for my future as well as the kids in the neighborhood who enjoy playing outside as much as I did when I was younger.”

Marlo Crosby


I live in a city that is grossly unequal. Whether it was noting the racial composition of certain sides of town or how poorly the funds were allocated to essential functions of society like schools or youth centers, I may not have always had the words to describe what I was seeing but I was always cognizant of it. 

My mother works in the educational system and my Dad is a veterinarian so getting my education was always the priority. They worked hard to give me all the tools I needed to succeed and instilled in me a desire to give back to my environment that I carry to this day. The further I went in education however, the more I began to notice how little my education had taught me about my identity in the context of my city nor my nation. In an effort to better understand local history, I read up on local history through written accounts and city planning. It was then that I truly grasped the effects of redlining and gentrification within the community I called home.“

Lillian Alburg


Growing up, I heard the term “global warming” and maybe even had a lesson about Climate Change in school every once and a while, but I don’t think I truly understood the consequences that would come of allowing climate change to affect the future until when I was in high school. I started to pay attention to the news and I saw an increase in natural disasters and their severity, articles saying that parts of Earth as we know it today will be inhabitable, and simulations showing Florida’s coast line being swallowed by rising sea levels. Quickly in my research, I realized that the climate movement wasn’t just fighting against climate change. It fights for neighborhoods that deal with pollution, consumerism and the plastic island in the middle of the Pacific, labor rights, and in general the dignity of the person. I couldn’t just sit back knowing what I know, ignoring the problem people before me created. I learned that it wasn’t just my future that would be harmed by climate change, but the current lives of so many people being harmed, and the selflessness I saw from the climate movement inspired me to step up and fight alongside them.”

All photos courtesy of subjects.

Answers may have been edited for length.

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Cameron Katz, ACE Intern

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