Promotorxs Shaping Healthy Communities

By: Asheton Gilbertson and Koki Atcheson

All people deserve healthy communities with equitable access to breathable air, clean water, and green space. But the burdens of environmental risks are not evenly shared — especially in the face of climate change. Communities of color and lower-income communities are already more exposed to environmental hazards and take longer to bounce back from natural disasters. As our climate warms, these inequalities will only be further exacerbated.

Through education, leadership development, and skill-building, Protégete is working to fight these injustices by supporting youth to become the next generation of community advocates and environmental leaders. 

Partnering with Groundwork Denver, a community organization working toward equal access to a clean and healthy environment, Protégete expanded their Promotorxs program to engage more young people on the importance of advocacy, activism, and leadership in fighting climate change and shaping a healthier, more equitable future. 

“These are real and personal issues our students are discussing,” said Issamar Pichardo, Protégete Community Organizer. “From discrimination in our laws and institutionalized inequity to creating a more just and sustainable conservation movement, Promotorxs learn about the historic and systemic barriers that stand between many of our communities and access to a healthy environment — and how to confront these barriers.”

In line with the action-orientation of their training, one session asked students to synthesize their learning by designing their ideal communities. Teams envisioned bold solutions to the inequities they identified. 

Students considered the many factors needed to support community health by pondering the question: what is necessary to foster an equitable and healthy community?

After a group brainstorm, teams of youth Promotorxs drafted their ideal healthy communities. Teams grappled to include the many factors needed to support community health, including:

  • Affordable housing
  • Access to healthcare
  • Education opportunities
  • Sustainable food and energy production
  • Employment opportunities
  • Equitable access to green space
  • Multimodal transit
  • Recreation and entertainment opportunities
  • Shared connections

And although each community design differed, every group consistently emphasized justice and access to resources. All visions were hopeful and demonstrated a commitment to future generations and the environment. 

Leaders at Groundwork Denver echoed youth Promotorxs’ commitment to equitable access to services and visionary leadership from all community members. 

Here’s what our partners at Groundwork had to say about the significance of the Promotorxs program…

Andrea Savage: Project Manager

Andrea Savage, Groundwork Denver Project Manager

  • People are making decisions about communities without their consent. We really need our communities and young people to be able to occupy decision-making spaces so that when decisions are made, our communities are present and [have a voice] in those decisions.
  • We want our students to understand that systemic barriers exist, but if they have the resources and the tools, they can take positions of power.
  • I would like all of the youth we work with to feel empowered with knowledge, like they can take on new issues [and] lead in their communities.

D Garcia: Youth Supervisor

D Garcia, Groundwork Denver Project Supervisor

  • Many of us face environmental injustice every day in our communities, but a lot of times we don’t realize it. If youth want to become leaders and to create change, they [have to be able to] recognize these injustices and act.
  • This knowledge isn’t taught in a traditional classroom setting. Through this program [students] are learning the skills to speak to people they’ve never spoken to, make [connections], and take action.
  • I really want the youth to complete the program feeling empowered to keep working towards creating positive change in our communities.

Growing Promotorxs programs prove that it is essential to include empowered, action-oriented youth in the fight against climate injustice. Partnerships between organizations with a shared vision of equity, like Protégete and Groundwork Denver, build power in a new conservation movement that confronts past and persistent environmental racism and oppression. 

Noe, Patricia and a youth Promotora listen in group discussion Through this training, Promotorxs learned to identify and understand intentionally racist policies that shape environmental injustices today. Their learning culminates in a call to action to fight against systems of oppression. Protégete Community Organizer Noé Orgaz explains, “there have been systems put in place to make people of color suffer. But everyone deserves an equal right to what they need: a home, a job, and a way to feed their family.”

Noe Orgaz, Issamar Pichardo, and a youth Promotor Everyone can find their own way to contribute to this anti-racist, equitable conservation movement. In a training session, Orgaz shared, “we can dismantle systems of oppression without resorting to anarchy. By getting involved, be it through voting, lobbying, or participating in the creation of laws and legislation, we can make change.” 

And the need for action against environmental injustice persists. “We need to fight for our right for a healthy community, like movements before us fought,” said Protégete Organizing Manager Patricia Ferrero during the community health discussion.

A climate crisis is upon us — we need tangible, just solutions. Equipped with historical knowledge, powerful voices, and hope for healthy communities, youth Promotorxs will be the ones to pave the way to an equitable climate future. 

Corporations, legislators, elected officials: listen closely. These emerging leaders are not afraid to stand up and advocate for their human rights to live in healthy communities.