The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus, top left, and others participate Saturday in the Maine College Climate Action Summit at Colby College in Waterville. Yearwood delivered the keynote speech. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — More than 100 students from New England colleges gathered on Mayflower Hill Saturday to discuss how to work together to mitigate the effects of climate change in Maine and beyond.

Hosted at Colby College, the inaugural Maine College Climate Action Summit highlighted the power of youth to enact change and the importance of creating an inclusive, human-focused movement in order to effectively fight global warming.  The daylong summit featured a keynote speech by the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit that connects social justice and climate work.

Students also attended workshop sessions led by members of various environmental organizations in Maine. Those workshops focused on climate policy, coalition building, leadership development, advocacy, lobbying and the ways in which the climate crisis affects food systems.

Participants in the Maine College Climate Action Summit focus their attention on climate storytelling Saturday at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

The event came less than a week after President Trump announced the United States would begin to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, an international plan to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.

“I think a lot of what we do on campus is often in isolation from what’s happening across the state,” said Emilie Pilchowski, a sophomore and leader of the Colby Citizen Climate Lobby, which helped facilitate Saturday’s summit. “We wanted to create an intercollegiate coalition in order to have bigger programming and have a bigger effect and to be able to bounce ideas between different college students.”

Cindy Nguyen, a senior at Colby, said she helped form the Colby Citizen Climate Lobby last spring to help engage students in local advocacy after interning with the organization’s Maine chapter.

“We talk about (climate action) in classes sometimes, but then I feel like it doesn’t leave the classroom,” Nguyen said. “We need it go get more ingrained in our lives, especially since climate justice is more prevalent now. (We need to) be able to talk about it not just theoretically in the classroom, but in terms of what it looks like for people in Maine or people at the federal level.”

Marnie Sinclair’s environmental art exhibit “Balance & Imbalance” is on display Saturday at Colby College in Waterville. The work was shown during the Maine College Action Summit, which drew students from colleges around Maine and New England. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Yearwood’s speech echoed these themes and offered context on how to chart a cohesive future of climate action. Soon after the climate justice movement began in 1969, Yearwood said, it isolated itself from other movements that were happening at the time, including the civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights movements. The focus was more on “polar bears and melting ice caps” than on the human tolls of natural disasters and other climate-related events.

“We have to break the silos created 50 years ago and engage other communities,” Yearwood said. Elevating the importance of politics in everyday life, appealing to a widespread and diverse electorate and getting people to vote — without telling them who to vote for — are crucial steps forward, according to Yearwood.

The reverend also spoke to the importance of art and culture in expressing political messages and making them accessible to all.

“I believe the way that we can grow this movement is by using our ability to touch the heart, not only the head,” he said.

While fear sometimes turns people away from climate activism, Yearwood added, an empowered younger generation also presents opportunities for hope.

“Organized people beats organized money every single time,” Yearwood said, regarding the fossil fuel industry. “We are at a time where if humans can come together and defeat the wall builders because we’re bridge builders, then this world will still be around because of you.”

On display outside Ostrove Auditorium, where the summit began, was a collection of student sculptures with titles such as “Road Runoff,” “Baseball-Sized Hail,” and “Hunger Strike,” all related to the impacts of the climate crisis. The college also premiered its “Climate Storytelling” film series at Saturday’s event. In a short film about Bumbleroot Organic Farm, Colby students Conor Larkin, Megan Andersen and Hania Lincoln-Lenderking shared the story of Windham farmers who practice regenerative farming. Through this method, farmers focus primarily on the soil and its ability to pull carbon from the air, which both enriches the soil and combats the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere.

The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus, delivers the keynote speech Saturday during the Maine College Climate Action Summit at Colby College in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Alysse Cleasby, a first-year student at Bates College, said she was excited to take some of the ideas she learned at the Summit back to the Lewiston campus.

“We’re looking to build our own club, develop youth connections across Maine and come up with ideas for building advocacy groups in Lewiston,” said Cleasby, a member of the Bates Environmental Coalition, before heading into the afternoon workshops.

The Maine College Climate Action was put on by the environmental studies department and the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment.

There were 124 college students from Bard, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby and Dartmouth colleges, College of the Atlantic, University of Maine at Orono, University of Maine at Farmington, University of New England and University of Southern Maine, as well as a delegation from Gorham High School, registered for the summit, according to Gail Carlson, an environmental studies professor and director of the Buck Lab for Climate and Environment.

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