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Meet Chanté Davis, a youth climate activist and champion for change

Passionate and purposeful, 17-year-old Chanté Davis is an environmental justice activist who understands the power of youth voices, especially those of people of color. Through her activism and campaigns, Chanté helps to raise the voices of BIPOC youth so that they are heard and connected with the movement. This Black History Month, we caught up with Chanté to learn about her campaign, role models and advice for teens who want to get involved with climate justice.

Getting started in the climate justice movement

Chanté started learning about the environment in her elementary school years. "I went to a green school and they talked about recycling, we had a wind turbine, and they talked about water usage and runoff and pollution," she shares. "I officially became an activist through Ocean Heroes, which was cofounded in 2017 by Captain Planet Foundation and Lonely Whale."

Chanté is a lead organizer with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activism organization. "In local work, I am part of JEAO—that is Justice, Equity and Anti-Oppression," Chanté explains. "I do work teaching anti-racism and talking about environmental injustice in the Houston area. Recently, over the electoral season, we organized for Green New Deal champions such as Mike Siegel and Julie Oliver. Nationally, I am a part of the Narrative Leaders team. We teach people how to tell their climate stories and bring people to the movement."

Ocean Heroes Bootcamp and her One Oysean campaign

The Ocean Heroes Bootcamp connects youth ages 11-18 from all over the world with peers, mentors and resources to protect our oceans. "The goal of the network is to help young leaders and activists create campaigns that measurably reduce single-use plastic in our schools and communities," Chanté says. "My newest campaign this year is called One Oysean, and it's an all-inclusive, multi-faceted platform from BIPOCs who are leading the way in ocean conservation, in their activism, in climate justice, you name it."

Inspirational activists and role models

One amazing source of inspiration for Chanté is Abby Leedy, an organizer with the Sunrise Movement who has appeared on Queer Eye. "I definitely look up to her...she taught me about the organizing process and really motivated my work—she cared, and she wanted me to grow as a leader," Chanté shares. Leah Thomas is another role model Chanté looks up to. "I know that intersectionality in the climate crisis has been an important topic, especially in this past year, and I just love the work that she's doing." Chanté's other role models include Danni Washington, Sylvia Earle and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). 

The connection between environmental justice and racial justice

"With the climate crisis, most of the people who are on the front lines who are getting it the worst are BIPOC, indigenous, low-income communities," explains Chanté. "This is connected to social issues because they were placed in, or were living in, areas that were gentrified. Or they were literally segregated and they grew up in usually unprotected areas when it comes to tornadoes and wildfires and snowstorms and hurricanes. So definitely by us achieving climate justice we'll be able to achieve environmental justice."

In her activism, Chanté pursues this connection by sharing her own story. "One of the things I like to say is that the climate crisis is now, especially for people like me. People bring up global warming because that's what it was called back then. They talk about polar bears and glaciers melting, and that *is* happening, but it seems so far-off that people don't feel that urgency to act. That's something that we at Sunrise like to instill in people: that the urgency is now." Chanté explains that even if your house is safe after a hurricane, that may not be true for your neighbors. "We're trying to show that it's happening at a different pace for people, and you may have a privilege that's preventing you from seeing that it's happening now."

Advice for young Black people to make their voices heard in this movement

"I would definitely say do not minimize yourself," Chanté says. "Definitely take on any opportunities that you can to advocate for what's right. I know a lot of the times we're told that we should hold our tongues [because of] respectability politics, but we're one of the demographics that are being hit the hardest with the climate crisis and COVID-19, and we need to raise our voices and let people know that this is an issue that's happening now. We all need to come together to solve this problem."

The most important changes teens can make right now

Chanté offers several ways teens can be environmentally friendly and stay cognizant of the environmental crisis. "If you have the privilege or the money, of course, you can always make sustainable swaps. A couple I have are my metal straws, my bamboo toothbrush and my shampoo and conditioner bars. As far as taking action, you can call your local politicans. If there's a bill that's going around that would help the climate crisis in your community, just talk to them about supporting that bill. Or, on the flipside, if there's a bill that would maybe hurt the environment, telling them, 'You might not want to support this.'"

Goals for 2021

Chanté is excited to kick off her One Oysean campaign this year. "My first goal is to launch my campaign in April 2021," she shares. "I hope to have three local collaborations, either with farmer's markets or sustainable Black-owned businesses that are in the Houston area to collaborate with my campaign and really get a lot of names for them."

Chanté's Favorites:

Environmental justice resources: "'How to Save a Planet' by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, as well as the book All We Can Save which is co-edited and authored by Dr. Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson. It looks at the intersectionality of the climate crisis, talks about solutions that are out right now and is really all-inclusive and includes people from all sorts of fields." Another climate-focused podcast is Lonely Whale's 52 Hertz podcast—episode 4 features Dyson Chee, another Ocean Heroes Bootcamp alum.

Environmental social media accounts: "The Sunrise Movement, of course (@sunrisemovement). And Intersectional Environmentalists (@intersectionalenvironmentalists). And @avritah, that's another one that talks about environmental justice and how it's connected to health equity."

Hobbies: "I love to swim. Right now I'm working on getting my open-water certification. I also like to dance, and I step. And I also love to meditate."

Eco-friendly snack/treat: "One is granola. I [also] like getting ice cream and using coconut milk instead. It tastes so much better!"

Spot in nature: "My new house has a pool in the backyard. We have a little setup that runs water, and we have a little diving board and cliff/rock setup. I usually sit there and I'll just meditate as the water's running and really get my thoughts in order."

Place to travel someday: "New Zealand! I have friends down there and they study sharks, and I want to study sharks. I'd really like to meet up with them one day if that's possible."

To learn more about Chanté, follow her One Oysean campaign @oneoysean on Instagram. To get involved with Ocean Heroes, follow them on Instagram and visit their website. To learn more about Lonely Whale, follow them on Instagram and visit their website. To learn more about Captain Planet Foundation, follow them on Instagram and visit their website.

Slider image: Brandon Thibodeaux. Middle image: The Galveston Bay Fund

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by Ariane Faro | 2/20/2021
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