Meet Youth Climate Activist Kelia Silva
"Growing up, I would constantly see Latino communities on the news being bombarded with disaster after disaster. It hurt me to see my community suffering, and I wanted to help them in some way. This sent me down the long and challenging path of environmental justice."
Keila Silva (she/her) is a fifteen-year-old climate activist from Suffield Connecticut. In addition to being a member of the Western Mass Youth Climate Leadership Program, she is conducting a climate action project for the Natural Resources and Conservation Academy that will provide insight into how environmental justice issues are concealed within affluent communities.
What first inspired you to advocate for environmental change?
Believe it or not, I wasn't always an involved advocate for environmental change. When I was younger, I felt discouraged speaking about the solutions I had created for dealing with environmental injustices. Largely, this had to do with the fact that I was constantly told by older generations that these issues were too much for a 'child' to conquer.
However, once I reached high school, I met Justin Kaput, my environmental science teacher. Sitting in his class over the first few weeks and listening to him talk about how my generation was going to change the world--and how I had the power to make change happen! --filled me with hope. I had always wanted to make change happen, to make a real difference in the world, and he had sparked that ambition within me.
But Justin was not the reason why I was drawn to making environmental change. Growing up, I would constantly see Latino communities on the news being bombarded with disaster after disaster. It hurt me to see my community suffering, and I wanted to help them in some way. This sent me down the long and challenging path of environmental justice.
Now, trying to complete my climate action project I find myself back in that same struggle to be an advocate. Within a predominantly white and wealthy community, people are not interested in listening to a poor Latina. Because of this, trying to conduct my research on how environmental justice issues are concealed within affluent communities is very difficult. Through my journey with this project so far, I have learned time and time again that people in positions of power do not want to risk losing their power to help those in need. These issues inspire me to be an advocate more and more every day.
What is a project that you are working on that you are proud of?
Right now, I am serving as an ambassador to the University of Connecticut (UCONN) in conjunction with their Natural Resources and Conservation Academy (NRCA) to carry out and present a climate action project that will provide insight on how environmental justice issues are concealed within affluent communities. Unfortunately, my research and partnership with this program will be ending this upcoming April, as this program is dedicated to guiding high school students on a multi-month climate action project to take back into their communities from July to April.
Additionally, for the last two years I have been serving as a leader on my school’s sustainability council to make the Suffield Public Schools, along with our town, as sustainable as possible. Through the Suffield Sustainability Council, I was able to be connected with the Western Mass Youth Climate Leadership Program (WYCLP) where for the past year I have been helping make Western Mass as sustainable as possible, along with spreading climate\sustainability education.
Why do you think it’s important for the youth to have a voice?
I believe that climate advocacy’s field is growing so rapidly because this power is being more noticed by youth. Through finding my voice, I believe more than ever that youth activists are going to change our world for the better. We have the power to make change, real change, and that is extraordinary.
What can the youth do to become more environmentally conscious and proactive?
We cannot keep dividing ourselves into proverbial boxes which constrain our identities into one category. As youth activists, that is not only what defines us. We are also scholars, changemakers, and above all human. I believe that often in the fight for climate justice that we forget this. What we are fighting for is humanity, because "we are the environment" as Dr. John Francis says.
Thanks to intern Audrey Quinn for preparing this profile.