2020 Summer Academy Highlights New Voices Are Rising

An Action-Packed Virtual Summer Academy

In the 2020 Summer Academy, 14 Oakland youth of color tuned in for our 6-week intensive environmental justice virtual training program. The Academy took students on a deep-dive into local environmental justice issues, while building their leadership, advocacy, and organizing skills along the way.

To address potential barriers for our students to participate in the program, we provided each student with an iPad and internet connectivity. This technology allowed our students to engage in online learning, group activities, digital organizing, and more.

Day OneThe summer was action-packed full of rich and engaging experiences, including virtual externships with local nonprofits, exciting at-home projects and experiments, and our annual (now virtual) Youth Poetry Slam – held online this year, of course. And the Academy culminated with our virtual Community Summit, where students will be able to showcase what they learned during the program and build community environmental literacy.

And, on top of it all, we got together online to go on virtual field trips to the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD)’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, where we learned about sewage water systems and the process of wastewater treatment; and a tour of EBMUD’s Pardee Reservoir, where Chris Swan took students on a “walk” through the reservoir to learn about dams, the Mokelumne River, and water systems. We also got to hear from guest speakers online, including Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is the lead attorney for families suffering from the ongoing water crisis in Flint, MI and for the families of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. He and his colleague Willam Marks, shared with us the connections between the Flint water crisis and racial injustices, such as police violence against Black people. And all of this was just in our Water Justice week!

For more of our action-packed Summer Academy, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Our Unstoppable Youth Leaders

Our 2020 Summer Academy invested in unstoppable youth leaders, who are as committed as ever to build community power despite the pandemic. They know that environmental injustices are not taking a break in this global health crisis, and that the pandemic shines yet another light on the health and economic inequalities in our communities. So this summer, they doubled-down on their work toward cleaner air, greater food security, and a more informed and engaged community.

Find out why one of these students, POD Leader (a Summer Academy alum who guides small “pods” of new students throughout the summer) Hannah dedicated her summer to being a youth leader with New Voices Are Rising:

Why is Hannah a youth leader with New Voices?

Thank you for supporting youth leaders like Hannah, who are building leadership skills and community power!

New Voices Youth Building Community Food Security!

In week two of the program, students in our Summer Academy learned about and worked to address food justice. Many low-income communities are in “food apartheids,” where residents face food insecurity and barriers to accessing healthy, fresh, affordable foods. This lack of access has implications on people’s health and well being, which is even further impacted by industrial pollution, the climate crisis, and the ongoing pandemic.

Throughout the program’s Food Justice week, our youth leaders discussed everything from the basics of food justice and its local impacts, to the connection between food and climate chaos, agribusiness and the food production industry, urban farming, farmworkers and discrimination, and so much more!

With your support, the Summer Academy took our food justice commitment a step further. We know our students are from communities facing food insecurity. And we know they can better participate in the program if they are well-fed and therefore better able to learn and focus.

Fresh, local produce delivered

So, we teamed up with former Rose Foundation Grassroots Fund grantee, Growing Together, to provide weekly boxes of fresh locally-grown produce and home garden kits to students and their families, to supplement their food supply over the summer. This summer, our Summer Academy students are building their own at-home gardens! They had a great time planting food in their gardens and watching them grow throughout the summer! The gardens are part of our food justice curriculum, addressing the local food apartheid young people experience in Oakland.

New Voices Student Gardens


As Natalia, a New Voices Academy participant shared, “Although at first my garden might be small, it still allows me to grow my own food where I know exactly how it’s being treated. I don’t have to depend on large chain grocery stores or fast food places. I think that’s where it connects to food justice in Oakland, because not everyone has easy access to those things.” See the full post on Instagram!

The students were so excited to start cooking up some healthy, delicious meals and sharing their recipes with the rest of the cohort!

To see more updates from student gardens, follow New Voices on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Connecting the Dots: Food Justice & Juneteenth

NVR Juneteenth Food JusticeOur Food Justice week coincided with Juneteenth, or June 19th – an important day of celebration, as it marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers reached Texas and brought news of the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of all slaves. This date reminds us, as Americans, of the promise of freedom, liberty, and human rights we are still striving to achieve for all in this country. And, it tied in beautifully with our Food Justice curriculum!

Our Summer Program Associate, Jada, led the cohort in a presentation connecting the legacies of slavery’s production processes to today’s capitalist food system. We are so grateful Jada shared her knowledge with us all! Thank you, Jada! And thank you to all the Black youth in and out of New Voices for bringing your commitment, passion, and leadership to this movement! Check out the full post about the presentation on Instagram!

Hands-On Experiments

A very important part of our Summer Academy curriculum has always been creating hands-on experiences that bring our STEAM education into practice. And we knew we had to find a way to incorporate these critical experiments into our virtual program to create an engaging and meaningful experience with our students.


So, we found some amazing experiments students could do from home with household items like petroleum jelly, paper, and tape for our aIr quality monitoring experiment (shown bottom left in graphic). As Trinity, one of our participants, explained, “We took a piece of paper and spread petroleum jelly on it. Then, we taped the paper in the front of our homes and recorded all the particles of air pollution caught by the piece of paper.” This experiment showed them a visual representation of the pollution in their neighborhood — and the idea for the activity came from a former student!

Head to a post about students takeaways from Air Quality week.

Other experiments included an ocean acidification activity (shown top left in graphic) and making smores in a solar cooker (shown bottom right in graphic)!

A Virtual Community Summit

Written by Andrea, 2020 Summer Academy Youth Co-Coordinator

A Virtual Community Summit

My first year with New Voices was in 2017, back when the office was not even big enough to keep 16 students one foot apart. I think this was one of my favorite things about being in the program – how close everyone gets with each other. It’s really satisfying watching everyone grow and learn by your side… literally! Our Community Summit that year was the perfect way to show everyone that we were really working together as youth of color from Oakland to make real change. 

This is what I kept in mind throughout this summer, when I took the role of Youth Co-Coordinator. One of the most important things about New Voices is that we are here to build connections and learn together. Even though we couldn’t be together physically, we did a good job of being with each other spiritually. Forging friendships over the internet sounds like it would be a hard thing to do. But that’s what youth from this generation do all the time, which made things a lot easier for us. 

Watch this highlights reel Andrea put together and shared at the Community Summit, celebrating all that our youth have learned and all they accomplished.

2020 Community Summit Vid

This year was our very first virtual Community Summit; we gathered on a Zoom call, where students gave group presentations on different topics they had researched related to our curriculum. And we presented them with their certificates, graduating them from the program and celebrating their incredible achievements throughout the summer. We received an overwhelming amount of praise from both the students and our guests! Our event showcased how much our students did, in fact, learn and grow together throughout our virtual summer. We really tried to make sure that everyone was engaged, and I think we succeeded! Virtual or not, New Voices always finds a way to make summer fun!

Thank you to our generous donors & supporters for making all of this happen!

Bay Area Air Management District · California Air Resources Board · CalEPA · Department of Pesticide Regulation · Department of Toxic Substances · East Bay Community Foundation · EBMUD · The Fite Foundation · Metropolitan Transportation Commission · Patagonia · Port of Oakland · Stupski Foundation

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