Inaugural youth program culminates in trip to John Brown Farm
By Chloe Bennett
Standing in a field at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site, teenagers from New York City aged 14 to 19 listened carefully to an impassioned speech by Aaron Mair, director of the Adirondack Council’s “Forever Wild” program.
Calling the Adirondacks “the lungs of America,” he said civil rights advocacy has evolved to include the environment as a core pillar, and now it’s up to them to protect it.
“The land is needed now more than ever, and your knowledge as you go toward careers in STEM, political science, medicine – this journey that you’re on, hopefully, that none of you will ever forget it – that this is a long trail of tears, but also tears of hope, prayers and joy.”
The group was part of the inaugural Timbuctoo Climate Science and Careers Summer Institute, aimed at diversifying science fields. For about two weeks, high schoolers and incoming college freshmen from New York City boroughs explored the Adirondacks’ ecological and social history. After hosting three groups of about 15 students, the institute wrapped its final day this year on Aug. 18.
“This is your land,” Paul Hai, associate director of the Adirondack Ecological Center of the SUNY College of Environmental Science (ESF), said to the students. “You own this land, and all of you belong here.”
Before arriving at the farm of the radical 19th-century abolitionist John Brown near Lake Placid, the institute traveled from the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, named after the Mississippi civil rights activist, to Kingston, Syracuse, Newcomb and Tupper Lake. Grasping the intersection of climate science and social justice was at the program’s center, prompting its creators to name it after the former settlement of Black farmers in North Elba.
Stories of Timbuctoo and subsequent civil rights events were told by Martha Swan, executive director of John Brown Lives!, Ren Davidson Seward, who designed the Memorial Field art at the Brown farm, and David Goodman, brother of activist Andrew Goodman, who was assassinated in 1964 for registering Black voters.
Although most students received some climate change education in the classroom, the program deepened their understanding of climate science and media headlines. “I never really went in depth with it until I got to this program,” Chloe Chin, a senior at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Queens, said. “I kind of learned just how bad it’s affecting people, wildlife and nature in general.”
When they weren’t researching science and social justice issues, the students explored the Adirondacks on foot and by canoe.
A love of the outdoors and wilderness drew 14-year-old Amari Tucker to the institute. “I’m always in the woods because I’m a Boy Scout and I go camping every month,” the high school sophomore at New York Harbor School, said. “So, I’ve really grown up around it, and I really love it and all the views, it’s beautiful, and I want to see it protected instead of being destroyed.”
SUNY ESF and Medgar Evers College partnered for the program, which received $2.1 million from last year’s state budget. The effort received public support from the local voices such as Mair, along with the state’s Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus. Sen. Zellnor Myrie from Brooklyn and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages sponsored SUNY ESF’s funding request last year.
At the end of the program, which was free for attendees, students received a $1,000 stipend intended to cover any financial burdens associated with attendance. The institute is funded for next year, Hai said, and the team plans to review feedback surveys before planning its second run.
While gathered at the John Brown Farm, the students visited the site’s barn with information on Timbuctoo and the Brown family’s gravestones. The group reflected on voting rights, and the people dedicated to obtaining them. Many of the students are within a few years from using their votes.
Victoria Pena, an incoming freshman at SUNY Oneonta, plans to visit the polls during the next election.
“I want to make a difference in the world, I want to voice it out and make sure I’m being heard,” she said.