Our Voices

After its first trip focused on addressing climate change, how Emerging Leaders is preparing students to become human rights activists

When 12 students from Bangor, Maine, arrived in Washington, D.C. for Speak Truth to Power’s Emerging Leaders trip on April 16, they arrived ready to engage.

The Emerging Leaders Trip is an opportunity for students from our partner schools to connect with a human rights issue. This year’s was centered around environmental justice and sustainability, which offered the students a chance to visit various agencies and community partners, then leave with a wider knowledge to address climate change in their own community.

The trip itself was one among the firsts: Six of the students were in The District for the first time, one student was there via their first flight, and hosting it was a first for the Speak Truth to Power (with more to come).

The 12 students are members of Bangor High School’s Human Rights Alliance. Established in November 2022, the group aims to educate themselves and others on human rights issues, including why dignity and respect for all is key to achieving change and securing a better future. The alliance already has participated in two human rights-based workshops hosted by the STTP team focusing on leadership and the unhoused community, and it is planning a long-term community service project to help Bangor’s large unhoused population.

The students’ interest in climate change stems from what they see as their generation’s responsibility to address it, as well as the prevailing perception our Earth already is a lost cause. While that is scary, the students believe many things can be accomplished through collective effort.

With eager eyes, students started their journey by visiting the National Museum of Natural History and soared from there.

On the trip’s first day, students took part in a climate justice workshop at RFKHR’s D.C. office that examined what solutions feel attainable and unattainable, as well as what can be done to fix current issues while also preparing for the future.

It set the tone for the remaining two days.

Students met with leaders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), where they were able to ask questions and discuss their concerns about Maine’s local climate issues – such as lobster fishing and rising temperatures – and about global topics, including the impact of fast fashion industry and air pollution. These discussions provided students with the tools necessary to educate people outside their peer group on small and large steps that can be taken to address climate change.

But the trip wasn’t all work; students also had their fair share of fun. On Sunday night, they saw Les Miserables at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The sweeping Broadway musical, set against the Paris Uprising in June 1832, exemplifies how art and justice come together to tell human rights stories.

And did you hear the people sing? Because they did: The students added some fun to their community service project – weeding and beautifying the Euclid Street Community Garden – by belting out ‘80s tunes Take on Me and Careless Whisper while getting to work.

Students also relaxed on the National Mall, where they made TikToks in front of the Washington Monument and played Frisbee outside the U.S. Capitol.

The planning process for the 2024 Emerging leaders trip is under way, and we’re so excited to bring more students from across the nation to Washington, D.C., to learn how to address a pressing human rights issue in their own communities.