City Climate Corner

Youth Episode - Fayetteville AR

Episode Summary

We interview 17-year old Amelia Southern about her path to climate justice activism in Fayetteville, that includes a Miami influence. And we reveal the source of our podcast music!

Episode Notes

We interview 17-year old Amelia Southern about her path to climate justice activism in Fayetteville, that includes a Miami influence. And we reveal the source of our podcast music!

For more information about Fayetteville, check out episode 6.


Episode Transcription


Larry Kraft  00:02

I'm Larry Kraft.

Abby Finis  00:04

And I'm Abby Finis. This is City Climate Corner where we explore how small and midsize cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Larry Kraft  00:17

Hey, Abby. 

Abby Finis  00:18

So today we have another youth episode and we are speaking with Amelia Southern from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came about finding Amelia?

Larry Kraft  00:31

Yeah. So she was the first person that we talked to. As I was doing searches for a bunch of the cities, we identified her name came up, and she was associated with one of the youth climate strikes, leading one of those from year and a half, two years ago. And I was able to find her through her mother, who's a professor at the University there. And yeah, so we connected with her and she responded pretty quickly. And so we first spoke to her in November, last year and then interviewed her in January.

Abby Finis  01:04

Yeah, she is a real go getter. And, you know, she told us about how she moved from Miami and was doing some climate work there and brought it to Arkansas. And we don't necessarily think about Arkansas as a place where a lot of climate action is happening. But I think that's one of the important things about this podcast is it's happening everywhere. There's incredible stuff happening in Fayetteville, which we'll hear in the full episode, as well, as I just saw a recent report on CBS this town in Arkansas, Batesville, that is generating enough revenue from solar panels at their school that they're able to pay their teachers more. So it just I think goes to show you that there's a lot of really, really good stuff happening in all corners.

Larry Kraft  01:47

Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, Amelia's story is not directly tied to the underlying city topic that we talked about on their biking infrastructure. But I think what we're seeing is this real significant increase in youth activism and visibility to youth activism around the country in many cities, is creating an environment where it's a lot easier for cities to do some really exciting things. The other thing I was gonna note about Amelia, which I encourage people to listen to is, as they ran into obstacles or things they needed to change, she just went ahead and did it. If we need to do education, well, we're going to educate other people if we need, you know. Whatever it is, that no barriers view that young people have is very much needed.

Abby Finis  02:40

The other important piece that comes out of this episode is that we learn why King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is the music for this podcast. And we are not going to give it away but you should definitely check out King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. They are a band out of Australia. They have a whole album dedicated to climate change. I'm giving away too much. So let's listen to the episode.

Larry Kraft  03:04

Right and I would say, If not now, then when?

Abby Finis  03:08

40 years ago. Let's do it.

Larry Kraft  03:11

Let's do it.

Start of interview

Larry Kraft  03:15

Hi, we're here today with Amelia Southern from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Amelia, welcome.

Amelia Southern  03:22

Thank you for having me. It's nice to be on here.

Larry Kraft  03:25

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and why climate change is important to you?

Amelia Southern  03:30

Yeah, of course. So I'm a 17-year-old. I'm currently a senior. But I first got involved with climate activism when I was a sophomore. I joined Zero Hour. I was really interested in intersectional activism, but once I heard they had a conference in Miami, it was like fate. I grew up in Miami, and I still routinely go there in the summers. But growing up in Miami had a huge impact on my activism. I was always scared about what was going to happen. The worries of childhood really turned into worries about surviving the next tropical storm. So hearing activists like Jamie Margolin and Elizabeth Faraj really changed my perspective on how I could change the world. And I'm not just a kid, but you know, I could do something about the fears that I had and the anxieties of not surviving a hurricane or a tropical storm.

Larry Kraft  04:29

Wow. You said you're interested in intersectional activism. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Amelia Southern  04:35

Yeah, of course. So I'm half Hispanic, Colombian. And growing up with a Colombian Mom, I saw a lot of injustice, the way that we were treated, and the way that different families viewed us. We saw when we would go out into public, or eating out, or just anywhere that wasn’t our home, you know, our little safe sanctuary, people would mock how my mom spoke because of her heavy accent. And I was like, why? That's just how she speaks. So from a very young age, I saw racial injustice prevalent in my community. And it was very hard for me to comprehend. Because what made it so different about my mom, that we were being treated this way that we were made to feel like an outsider. 

And then also at the age of like, 10, or 12, I got diagnosed with absence seizures and epilepsy. So I've been a big advocate for disabilities too -- or promoting awareness about why people should, end the stigma around the way that we treat disabled people and things like that. Because especially in climate activism, we usually forget about how largely impacted disabled people are with natural disasters. How accessible is it to climb out of, you know, a burning building, when you're in a wheelchair? It's not gonna happen. And we don't really think about that, because disabled people are the smallest minority. And it's, it's crazy to me that we don't have more climate activists talking about this, because it's really scary, and one of the most impacted communities. 

When I joined Zero Hour, I knew that this was going to be the right organization for me to join, because Zero Hour is all about talking about race, racial justice, disability justice, economic justice, and combining all of those sections of different facets of activism and understanding how all of that is affected by climate change, and environmental injustice and what we can do to uproot the systematic justice stuff, just I guess, the world and society and figuring out how if we're finding ways to end those stigmas and stereotypes, then we're on our way to a cleaner, and more fair world. And I guess that's what Zero Hour is all about. Yeah. 

Larry Kraft  07:20

I'm happy you're involved in speaking up. Why is it important for youth to be involved in climate action and climate justice efforts?

Amelia Southern  07:29

That's a great question. Um, much like a pandemic climate change affects everyone. But specifically, I think that youth kind of turned a blind eye, like a pandemic. But it's also a foreseeable global risk, right. So in our current times of COVID-19, we have found solidarity in our communities. We all no matter our age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status have been affected by this virus, much like we're being affected by climate change. I bring up COVID-19, because Corona has revealed the intense need for systematic change. And it's really brought exposure to not only racial justice, but also climate justice. So we need to hold our leaders accountable for both COVID-19 deaths and those of the climate crisis. So yes, everyone, but especially youth people need to understand that the community's most vulnerable to both the pandemic and climate crisis, which are going to be our communities of color, in our poor communities. We need to speak up for them, not in place of them, we need to let them tell their stories. We can't allow our leaders to make the same mistakes that they did with COVID-19. And we must come together, because the future that we have right now is no future at all. So to determine whether we live or die, we have to fight. Because it's not just for the planet, but it's for humanity. And it's not just about our lives, but it's about the stake of you know, the next generation and our future. But again, you know, it's about everything. It's so I think that everyone should be fighting because it's so much more than save the turtles or, you know, it's way deeper than that.

Abby Finis  09:21

No, I think that I'm glad that you brought up the parallels between climate change and COVID. Because it's giving us a glimpse into, you know, as climate change accelerates, and we feel the impacts more deeply, we're seeing the vulnerabilities revealed, and our systemic failures revealed and so it's a it's a real opportunity to take a look inside of that and, and get ahead of, of what we can do around climate action. You know, this is all it's a groundswell right of, of people standing up and rising up and youth are incredibly important voices in this and local entities are incredibly important voices in this and so can you kind of turn to to looking more at Fayetteville and what you've been doing and your role in that city?

Amelia Southern  10:12

Yeah. So I moved to Fayetteville when I was in fifth grade. But I didn't really start to get active in my community specifically, until I was a junior. And I knew after the summer of doing Zero Hour's conference that this wasn't just a Miami issue anymore. This was a global issue. And it didn't really hit until I went back that summer and started looking at the holes in Fayetteville. Fayetteville is usually seen as very progressive, environmentally friendly, doing the most they can, but still, there's a lot of issues that are ignored. And when I got into Fayetteville activism specifically, I realized a lot of the issues were economic based, and we need to just start by doing awareness, because we all know in Fayetteville that there is an issue of climate change. Everyone knows that, you know, there's, it's a problem, well I'd like to hope that everyone knows. 

We started doing more educational seminars instead of directly, first, because Arkansas is ranked pretty low for educational standards. And so we started in Fayetteville, but we eventually dispersed from just Fayetteville centralized education to spreading out to seven different cities, we've decided that obviously, education isn't going to be enough. People need to actually take action. And that's when we started to plan protests and sign petitions and push people to live a more sustainable life. City officials are very supportive, specifically Fayetteville's city officials are very supportive of what we're doing. They like to be constantly reminding citizens of Fayetteville to pick up trash, recycle. Once cities like Fayetteville realize that there's a problem, they take action. And I'm very lucky to have a city that's so supportive of my activism and Zero Hour's activism, and just groups that are like us. 

But not every city is like that. And like, the further that we moved down south with education, the more pushback that we got. So, of course, I can only control -- and I can't even control that much. But I'd like to hope that the more people that get involved, the more youth that get involved, the more that we can see a change in the whole state of Arkansas. But of course, it starts with one city first and hoping to push other cities and making those changes. But specifically what we've done for the past, for the last year was lectures, webinars, we held a couple climate strikes. We held trail cleanups, trash pick ups, and we did a lot of fundraising and donations and things like that to hold our climate conference. But because of COVID-19, it got canceled, and instead, we just decided to put that money and fundraising into having more lectures and having more education-based seminars, so we can help those in need and also just provide, you know, so yeah, half of the money went to lectures, and then the other half went into research, specifically for the delta region, which is more, it's not in Fayetteville, but it's further down south. So we could, because that's the area affected most by climate change in the state of Arkansas. So we wanted to raise some money and put it in a place that we knew was going to need it.

Abby Finis  14:06

So the conference that you mentioned, was canceled, what was the plan for that conference? What were you hoping to accomplish?

Amelia Southern  14:14

The climate conference was going to be a weekend long event. And we had been planning it for almost seven months. So we decided that there was going to be a series of keynote speakers. And we were going to have an art show present by students from all around Fayetteville that created art out of recycled materials and to promote awareness and just use their art as a platform to speak out on issues just like activism, you know, like art activism. And so we would have that hung up and then we decided that we were going to have a gala on the second day. All of the food was going to be vegan. We were going to partner with the city of Fayetteville, because we did that the last climate strike that we had. We gave people wooden spoons, and like, just wooden silverware. And so that was just fun because people enjoyed that they got to take it home with them. So we were going to do that again. So they could eat with that, and then everyone was going to buy a ticket or there is going to be donors that bought tickets, and then we would sell them, which was going to be really fun because people would dress up and a lot of kids from our high school or my high school were really excited about it. And then on the last day, the most exciting day, in my opinion was, we were going to have a series of musicians from all over the age spectrum, whether they were like, in middle school, with School of Rock, or they had their own band, or it was bands like Handmade Moments. They were going to be playing on stage. And we had a lineup of guests like some, most of the songs were just, you know, rock music, but we also had some songs about climate, or bands that wanted to play songs about climate activism and, or like covers like, there's No More Planet B by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Abby Finis  16:14

Just name, man just band name dropping.

Larry Kraft  16:19

I don't know that band.

Amelia Southern  16:23

Yeah, you guys should listen to them, they’re really good. 

Yeah, so yeah, it was gonna be really fun. And this year, we're gonna do a virtual conference. So maybe no music this year. But education is our thing. So we'll be doing a lot of lectures and webinars and just donating and then giving back to our community

Abby Finis  16:58

That's cool. Can you talk a little bit about how you've engaged with the city and how they've reacted to you?

Amelia Southern  17:05

Yeah, like I said, the city of Fayetteville is very progressive, and they love hearing our ideas, we first decided to reach out to them, in I think november of 2019. And we decided that we wanted to make a partnership with the city, and to see how we could help them and how they could help us. So we sat down with the director of sustainability. And we had a conversation about research, and what was the growing problems in Fayetteville. And they said that the number one issue in Fayetteville is transportation because more people are buying cars every year. And of course, when people are buying cars, that means they're driving them. And the more driving there's happening, more carbon emissions. So we decided that we were going to hold a study, to see if we could give money to Fayetteville high school kids to see if they would carpool together, or if they would walk or bike to school. And if they were, then they would be paid to, you know, just like an incentive to actually be more sustainable. And of course, that study didn't go through either, because school was cancelled. But we have plans to put that back on track. And, yeah, besides the research thing, we did the partnership with the climate strike, and the recycling program came and talked about how to recycle -- what you can recycle and what you can't recycle. It's really added up to their positive reactions and wanting to actually better the community and knowing that we have their support is a great feeling. Because then, you know, we can actually work together and collaborate and make sustainable changes to our community. And having that confidence makes me feel like those changes are going to be long term. Not just we did it. And it's, you know, sad now, but it's going to be that way for a while, I think.

Larry Kraft  19:06

Thank you for sharing your story with us. It's inspiring. 

Abby Finis  19:12

Yeah, thank you.

Abby Finis  19:17

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  19:40

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft, edited by me. Music by...

Abby Finis  19:46

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  19:49

Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.