This is a guest post by Jasmine Wei from Alhambra High School in Southern California. You can learn more about Jasmine here.
Jasmine, along with 70 of her peer leaders from around the country, made the choice to apply for a full scholarship to PowerShift 2013, the largest convergence of climate-focused youth on the planet. These leaders, fresh out of PowerShift with new skills and ideas for action, are launching and leading climate campaigns in cities around the nation.
ACE leaders all bring their own unique identities, skills and talents to the youth climate movement. Through their individual lens and worldview, their work is strategically focused on everything from state-wide divestment from fossil fuels to district-wide climate action plans.
My Journey: To PowerShift & Back
Going to PowerShift was a life changing experience. Not too long ago, I felt like I had lost my sense of self. I lost my confidence, the passion I so strongly once felt about environment, and my identity. My experience at PowerShift brought back the real me. It was as if someone reached inside of me and pulled the true me back out. It empowered me to find freedom from this polluted Earth, and have the courage to change it for the better. It also showed the true shining power of individuals. PowerShift brought together people all around the country for the same cause. It gave me reassurance that I was not alone, and reminded me of what I was fighting for in the first place: humanity.
Early on in the weekend, AshEl, one of the Northern California ACE chaperones, offered me an opportunity to be part of an artist panel to talk about art and activism. I was super thrilled to hear that my work was appreciated, but nervous at the same time. I always had problems talking in front of a large group of people and this was an opportunity to get over that fear. A Southern California ACE chaperone, Jessica, did breathing exercises with me before the presentation began to calm me down. She also told me that the feeling of being afraid and being excited is the same. I was probably excited but convinced myself I was scared. I realized that no one was stopping me but me. I am thankful that she was there to help me or I would have not presented.
Before the panel began, I peered into the little room and saw it was over-flowing with people. People filled up all the chairs, sitting on the floor, standing against the wall and spilling into the hallway. My low confidence made me fear that people would boo me off the stage.
When I started talking about my art, though, I realized that the things I was saying came from my heart. My art was about the frustration I had before joining any environmental clubs through the journey to how I had hope at the end, hope for a better future. At the end of my presentation everyone clapped and I had a moment of enlightenment. I realized that people aren’t as bad as I thought. When people started clapping for me, I was so moved that I started crying tears of joy. As I looked around the room full of passionate environmental activists, I saw some crying with me.
During the Q&A session, a young woman raised her hand and asked if my art could be tattooed on her body! I couldn’t believe that someone would be willing to put my art permanently on her body, forever part of her. I was really honored. After the workshop people came up to me and told me that I did a good job, giving me so much support that I can’t put in words. Many people wanted to exchange business cards with me and wanted to contact me. I love talking about my art and its speaking from my heart. I gained so much confidence in myself that I haven't felt in a long time.
On the last day, I woke up feeling blue. I was going to miss all of the incredible people I met at PowerShift. Even though it was only a few short days, I became very close to the ACE chaperones and students. I had a deep conversation with one of the ACE chaperones, which helped me regain my sense of inner peace. I heard confident ACE students singing, rapping, beat-boxing, and just filling the streets of Pittsburgh with music. I saw my friend transform, from being shy and having her hair up all the time to letting her hair down and her beautiful personality shine at the last concert. My roommate, Mona, also helped me on the road to my self-confidence. She gave me pep talks and gave me a lot of encouragement whenever I doubted myself. Saying goodbye was hard, and as I was giving hugs to everyone I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. I love the group of people I met at PowerShift!
PowerShift didn’t just change me; it changed everyone who was present.
PowerShift was a place for me to connect, and for once, I felt at home. I learned much more than what I was expecting, and will forever live with these lessons. Even though PowerShift ended, my journey to spread awareness about the environment has not. I could either just look back this as another memory or make the choice to take the knowledge I gained and bring it back to my community. That weekend, I found my voice and discovered what I wanted to do in the future. I want to inspire others with my art and encourage them to take action.