Dear Friends of LEAPS,
Yesterday 300 children from a mix of Maine’s middle schools stepped out of the gate to share their work and begin turning their ideas into collective action. I was thrilled to be there for the experience. Participants in the 5th through 8th grades from all over Maine chose projects to honor the spirit of Samantha, who back in the ’80’s wrote persuasively to both Queen Elizabeth and Yuri Andropov. She wrote:
“Dear Mr. Andropov, My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren’t please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight. Sincerely, Samantha Smith.”
The vibe at the Smith Challenge celebration matched the intention and intensity of Samantha’s ideals. Following group discussions (on issues of animal rights, human needs, gun violence in schools, social justice, and the environment, just to name a few,) 22 year old Kelsey Juliana spread seeds of hope.
An activist from the age of 5, having sued the state of Oregon at 14, and filed a lawsuit with the federal government in 2015, she cited the government’s failure to honor the rights of young people, all people. Although as early as 1955 it was reported that global warming was “an apocalyptic” issue, she asserted that our government has permitted the ongoing pollution of our planet.
Juliana asked students to identify the stakeholders. “We are!” they said, and I knew they believed it.” If others tell you that you are the future,” she reminded them, “the time for you to take action is NOW.” Speaking for herself as well as her audience she urged them on. “If we don’t include ourselves in the picture, who will make the change?” To make things happen we must “educate, advocate, and take personal responsibility.”
When Kelsey gathered a small group together, students shared their ideals as environmental stewards. Their discussion centered on changing the culture of consumption. As their action plan, students proposed a day when individuals would pledge not to buy anything packaged in plastic or cardboard.
“It’s more compelling when people collaborate.” At age 14 she walked from Nebraska to D.C. with several of her peers, talking with locals along the way about issues like water and food waste.
Maine kids have a lot to say for themselves. And one of their mediums is art. Whether their research was on the Rohingya in Myanmar or the limited number of days (38 out of 175) of physical education in school, these young people understand the depth of multiple problems we face as a society. And they’ve already begun pressing for a more positive future.
When the morning came to a close, every eye was upon Juliana. She told kids something they will always remember, “The entire world is looking to our generation as changemakers. YOU are the ‘now.'”
Thank you, Rob Shetterly, for inspiring students and schools to work toward a world of compassion, creative thinking, and commitment.
With admiration and positivity,
Nancy Harris Frohlich