Hello! I’m Ailani Palacios. I’m a 19 year old college student, OPAL intern, and a member of the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance (YEJA). Through my involvement with YEJA, OPAL has helped me to develop as a leader and given me tools to organize in my community.
I first started working with OPAL in late March of this year to help plan a youth-organized transit justice event. I was able to work with other youth on issues surrounding public transit such as safety, affordability, and equity. Through planning the event I was able to learn about the rights people have and the ways our rights are hindered and in some cases denied. OPAL has enlightened me about what environmental justice is and its importance in our communities, especially for those who are underrepresented: low-income communities of color.
Environmental justice is about being treated fairly no matter where you come from or how you identify sexually, spiritually, culturally, or socially. OPAL has helped me understand how equal access to the resources and opportunities the community offers helps everyone, especially youth, become successful. At the same time it helps the community grow and develop. Environmental justice is about being involved in decisions that affect you and feeling comfortable and secure in any environment where we live, work or go to school.
As I continued working with OPAL, I was lucky enough to help more youth realize that they have the power to help spread environmental justice and make a difference in our community. We were able to create the youth leadership program, YEJA, and learned about different political systems that oppress minority groups both in the present and in the past. With these discussions and workshops I gained knowledge on how these systems affected me, but also how I unknowingly supported and maintained these oppressive ideas every day. One of the biggest realizations I had was about hetero-patriarchy and sexism and how the simple act of assuming someone’s pronouns or sexual orientation and even the gender they identify with could be hurtful and confining.
As I continue to help OPAL and YEJA develop, I can see how they have also helped me develop. I now see all the work and time it takes to organize a movement and be a leader for your community. I am proud to say that being involved in this organization has helped me become more organized, more engaged, and more empowered. OPAL and YEJA have opened my eyes to my strengths as a young organizer of color because youth are the most powerful tool in any movement. We are the future, we are capable of making change, and we are resilient. Together, we can accomplish anything. Using the tools and training gained from OPAL’s guidance as well as the stories and struggles of YEJA’s youth, I have become more aware of ways to organize and improve my community. Injustices in our lives have become more apparent to me and I use this knowledge to help me better myself as a person. All of the organizers at OPAL are role models because they are people that carry the idea of environmental justice with them every day and they are always fighting for it, no matter how tough or how long the battle.
Thank you for reading my story.
Ailani discovered environmental justice thanks to OPAL’s focus on authentic community empowerment. Our organizing makes a difference in the lives of low-income people and people of color across our region, particularly in communities most affected by environmental injustice. Click here to learn more about the Youth Environmental Justice Alliance.