Women’s Summit 2022 features slam poet and environmental activist

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Leah Thomas, one of two guest speakers at Boston College’s annual Women’s Summit, first viewed environmental issues through a racial lens while studying environmental science policy at university.

“It was really hard for me to learn…all these laws that are supposed to make our world a better place, while a lot of people back home are drowning in tear gas smoke,” Thomas said.

The BC Women’s Center held its eighth Women’s Summit virtually this Saturday. The event aimed to empower participants through workshops, speeches and discussions.

Thomas, the founder of an eco-friendly lifestyle blog called Green Girl Leah, began her talk by outlining her path to environmental justice.

“I couldn’t understand why my peers were focused on this hypothetical future and not focused on this environmental justice emergency. … It’s an act of environmental racism … If you don’t care about the reality and the negative health effects that are affecting people right now,” she said.

As an intersectional environmentalist, Thomas said she advocates for justice and inclusivity in environmental education, highlighting how low-income and black, brown and Indigenous communities bear the brunt of climate change.

“Communities of color and low-income communities, especially where these two identities intersect, continually bear the brunt of environmental risks and injustice,” Thomas said. “I started seeing statistics that 70% of African Americans live in communities that violate federal air quality standards.”

Thomas said she posted a pledge on her Instagram – which now has nearly 230,000 followers – which got a lot of attention.

“I posted on Instagram a definition of intersectional environmentalism, here’s the pledge if someone wants to be an intersectional environmentalist, and I posted it online, and suddenly hundreds of thousands of people said that they wanted to be [one]“, said Thomas.

Later, alongside other activists, Thomas created the platform Intersectional Environmentalism, a website to advocate for environmental and social issues with like-minded people around the world, she said.

Thomas encouraged participants to focus on the intersections of race, gender and income and how they combine to influence how minorities experience the world around them.

“My identity influences how I take care of this world and this planet,” Thomas said. “You should never have to hide parts of your identity to champion the causes you care about.”

Thomas’ interview was followed by eight workshops focusing on topics such as “Guiding Your Transition Adventure While Building Your Personal Brand” and “Charting Your Path to a Meaningful Career”.

Sarah Kay, spoken word poet, playwright and founder of Project Voice, is a returning speaker, as she also attended the 2019 summit.

Kay began her speech with a poem about how her mother taught her to look for the color orange everywhere. The story, she says, tells how her mother’s positive outlook on life inspired her.

“For example, while I spend my time looking at the shittier parts of New York, my mom spends her time looking for beauty and following her curiosity,” she said. “I want to follow my mother’s example to seek out what delights and find beauty easy to ignore.”

Kay then read another poem that asked if the narrators were responsible for their reliability.

“Don’t just be someone who can observe and describe, but use language for aspiration, not inspiration,” she said. “Use language to bring something into existence and not just any old something.”

Admitting she felt pressure when asked to give the speech, Kay said she hoped to find an appropriate tone of positivity and wanted to be sensitive to the audience.

“We all deal with so much visible and invisible grief, fear and personal burdens on a daily basis, and it seems like quite a difficult task to find something valuable to offer for these endeavors in your life most of the time,” he said. she declared. .

Kay said that throughout the pandemic, reading has helped her cope with her anxieties – she has turned to the writings of other authors for escape.

“It’s not about solving or finding the answer,” she said. “You don’t need to condemn how you feel. …I like to pick up a book or listen to a podcast and see what’s going on in other people’s worlds.

When asked by an audience member if her free time during the pandemic had fostered creativity or posed challenges, Kay said the pandemic allowed for more introspective writing.

“I was able to write poems that in some ways felt really personal and honest in a really liberating way,” she said. “But it’s been a really tough time for everyone, and my creativity has definitely been tested, so it’s been both challenging and fruitful.

One of Kay’s concluding poems asked what a society would be like with a minister of loneliness. Kay said she came up with the idea after discovering that the Japanese government had created a new position called the Minister of Loneliness in response to rising suicide rates.

“Something about it really inspired me,” she said. “I was thinking about what it would mean to try to take on this kind of work.”

Kay asked the audience to think about the poem and think about the kind of world they wanted to help create.

“This last poem is an attempt to look at what is but also to ask you to join me in giving some time and attention to what might be possible,” she said.

Featured Image by Katie Dalton / For Heights


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