“What are they thinking putting polluting power plants in our backyard? I think it might be a case of environmental racism. No rich white neighborhood would ever allow some power plant to be built in their backyard. Even though I didn’t have money, I had words. And words have power.”
As a young child growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, Jaysa Hunter-Mellers suffered from severe asthma. When Jaysa was ten years old, she and her mother (now deceased), joined the Healthy Connecticut Alliance (HCA), a group concerned with how the local coal-fired power plant was affecting the health of the community’s children. Soon Jaysa’s dynamic speeches at rallies and her testimony at city hall helped shut down the plant that was causing her asthma.
Hunter-Meller’s story is told in the award-winning short film Words Have Power—part of a series called Young Voices for the Planet which documents youth solutions to the climate crisis. The film offers thirteen-year-old Jaysa the opportunity to convey to a broader audience her message about environmental racism, of companies situating their power plants, sewage treatment plants and other polluting plants in low-income communities—often communities of color. She articulates how wealthy suburban neighborhoods, with “their picture perfect lawns,” are protected from this industrial invasion.
The film sparked a demand for Hunter-Mellers to share her story even more widely. When audiences of young people ask her how she knew, as a child, that she could address the Bridgeport City Council, she asks with some indignation in her voice, “How could you NOT know? Why, if we live in a Democracy, are we not taught how to participate as citizens? Don’t they want us to know?”
Hunter-Mellers won admission to the Fairchild Wheeler Interdistrict Multi-Magnet Campus where she attends the Information Technology and Software Engineering School. She is active in her school’s debate team and drama club and has been lead singer and performer for several theatrical productions at the Klein Memorial Auditorium in Bridgeport. Her other pursuits include the VEX Robotics Team, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, and the Student Council. She has participated in the Girls Leadership Summit at Fairfield University and the STEM Girls Who Code Summit at the University of Bridgeport. She has also joined the fight to save a local forest, Remington Woods, one of the last remaining open space areas in Bridgeport.
Hunter-Mellers has become a passionate advocate for inclusion of civics and social and environmental justice in the core curriculum in all schools so that kids—and adults—learn to participate in their own governance, take action, and speak truth to power. Now a high school junior, Hunter-Mellers has crafted a powerful message demanding environmental justice and equitable youth access to civic education. She advocates youth engagement so that all young people will have the opportunity to build the skills and experiences necessary to speak out and shape the future they deserve. In her role as a Youth Ambassador for Young Voices for the Planet, Hunter-Mellers addresses and mentors hundreds of youth each year at climate summits and conferences and in classrooms throughout the U.S., galvanizing audiences with a courage and wisdom that belie her years.
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