Teenager’s voices are heard, and their work respected at the Sanctuary for Independent Media in Troy, New York, located within three long blocks of the Hudson River, also a sanctuary for learning.
Last summer, Genesis Cooper, Gabby Espada and Shansanique Pollack, under the mentorship of Jared Wesley Singer and Catherine Rafferty ventured out on a patrol boat with John Lipscomb of the Riverkeepers to learn about collecting and testing water samples from the Hudson River for pollutants. This summer, as part of the Media Sanctuary’s Water Justice Lab project, they will take over water testing duties.
The project this summer, with the teen scientist as Water Justice Lab fellows, moves into its second year as a program of the Media Sanctuary’s NATURE (North Troy Art Technology and Urban Research in Ecology) Lab Environmental Education Center and Riverkeeper.
Under the administration of visionaries Steve Pierce and his wife Branda Miller, science learning for youth at the Sanctuary for Independent media expands to embrace a holistic approach to seeing young people as vessels in which to pour knowledge. They begin to give back to the community, as they learn.
The goals of the program are established as it moves forward. In addition to participating in a water quality sampling lab project, they are involved with the Media Sanctuary in educating “diverse communities about water literacy and water civics (water issues and how to make a difference); developing the advocacy capacity of their North Troy neighborhood, and strengthening the network of environmental justice advocates focused on water issues in the Hudson River Watershed.” The teens are learning and teaching, priming the pipeline and growing the next generation’s environmental leaders from the ground up.
One aspect of the environmental movement that has troubled community advocates like Miller and Pierce is the lack of awareness of urban communities about nature and the environment. Marketing communications in the field of the sciences is essential in reaching communities like Troy nationwide.
So, the experience for the young scientists focusses both on the laboratory science of water sampling in the Hudson Watershed, environmental justice issues related to the Watershed and developing the media arts skills through radio and podcast production to tell the story and increase public awareness of those issues. As Ms. Miller has noted, this work involves young people in the illumination of environmental issues impacting millions of New Yorkers’ water; plus utilizes Media Sanctuary as a resource for revealing how these issues may disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Youth Scientist Fellows shared their views on the Media Sanctuary’s radio station WOOC FM 105.3, recently. Genesis, 14, said: “For me, water justice means using science to help people in your community – not just for research, but social issues and economic issues in different neighborhoods and cities.”
Gabby Espada, 14: “Water justice to me is very important because water is very important – not only to myself, but to everybody else in the environment.”
Shansanique Pollack, 15: “Water justice means the safety of our communities. If the water starts to get worse, the water we drink and bathe in can cause a lot of health issues. And for people with underlying conditions, it can become a life-or-death situation. I think it’s important to make sure everyone can be healthy and safe.”
Riverkeeper and a network of partners collaborate to test the Hudson River and many of its tributaries at up to 400 sites each year, including 20 current sampling sites in the Upper Hudson River Watershed between the Adirondack Mountains and Troy.
Steve Pierce, executive director of Media Sanctuary, said: “We’re excited to be working with Riverkeeper to help develop a new generation of clean water activists, drawn from the neighborhoods where environmental justice is a pressing concern. We’re looking forward to harnessing our community media tools to the struggle for water justice and amplifying the voices of these young people as they do their work!”
Dan Shapley, director of Riverkeeper’s Water Quality Program, said: “In the Hudson River Watershed, we don’t have equitable access to water that is safe to drink, fish that are abundant and safe to eat, or healthy rivers and streams where we can experience the simple human joy of being in and near water. Through both community science and community media, these three students will help shine a light on these issues, so we can all work to remedy them.”
We will hear more from these Youth Scientist Fellows in upcoming issues of Our Time Press this spring and summer, who provide radio and podcast content for the Media Sanctuary’s Hudson Mohawk Magazine. Visit MediaSanctuary.org.
A documentary short, created by Media Sanctuary teens, “Echoes from Lock One” has been accepted into three film festivals with decisions from others pending. The film centers on water justice from the eyes and voices of youth in the area.
During the annual Uptown Summer program based at The Sanctuary for Independent Media, media makers, artists and scientists worked with teens in filming, audio recording, script writing, music production, dance, historical research as well as scientific testing to create this experimental, participatory documentary with a powerful message for change.
The “Echoes from Lock One” documentary on water justice and the legacy of the Erie Canal, premiered at the all-virtual Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital last month. In addition, the film will stream online through the North Dakota Environmental Rights Film Festival from April 11-25, 2021 and the Kansas City Film Festival International from April 12-18, 2021.
“Echoes from Lock One” is an investigation of the past, present and future of the Hudson River in North Troy.
“The National Endowment for the Arts included ‘Echoes from Lock One’ trailer in their weekly report to the White House,” said Branda Miller, arts & education coordinator at The Sanctuary for Independent Media. “It gives us hope that people at the top are listening to the voices of youth in North Central Troy as they share their message: ‘For justice and for our future… no more waiting!’”