In speaking to Everett Najarian, 19, from the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots & Shoots youth program about his advocacy work and personal experiences in creating positive change, it has been made clear to me that supporting youth voices is essential to strengthening our communities.
As part of the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council, Everett, along with a number of other fantastic youth members, have been able to find an inclusive community where their ideas are valued. The Roots & Shoots program, created by Dr. Jane Goodall, empowers young people from around the world to build a better tomorrow by providing the resources, opportunities, and relationships that young people need in order to create positive changes within their communities.
One of Everett’s Roots & Shoots projects, Good Spokes, was founded in 2015, and beautifully exhibits his dual passion for art as well as being a change-maker. Selling wire bikes, cards, and linocut block prints, Everett has raised over $2,500 for World Bicycle Relief, and continues to support other organizations such as The Leslie Science and Nature Center, Heal the Bay, and more.
As Everett so eloquently said to me, “There’s this idea that when kids have a strong relationship with nature when they’re younger, then they’re going to grow up to be more likely to protect it, and I think that that really relates to young people in general, in having leadership positions.”
What I find so fascinating about this and what ultimately draws me to Roots & Shoots, is the connection that is being made between helping the environment and helping youth to discover and believe in themselves.
Along with our relationship to the environment, mental health has a lot to do with our ability to create change as well. Another of Everett’s projects is called, “Hey! I’m In This Book!” which he created in 2019, with the aim of decreasing the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community through increasing LGBTQ+ representation in books. HIITB holds book reading style events called “See Yourself in a Book,” and donates books featuring LGBTQ+ Characters to public schools and libraries. (Check out the associated reading list here!)
Even though Everett was only in the third grade when he first met Dr. Jane Goodall in Cincinnati, his commitment to working with the Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council has only grown. “If I started boasting about how amazing Dr. Goodall is, I would never stop. Learning from the different program directors and youth members has been an amazing opportunity for me to learn about things I never imagined I’d be a part of.”
Looking into the future, I hope that there will be even more youth leadership positions where young people like Everett can gain the skills and confidence to do the amazing things they’ve always been passionate about doing.
You can join Roots & Shoots today and become a changemaker like Everett at rootsandshoots.org/member. Follow Roots & Shoots @rootsandshoots and Dr. Goodall at Facebook.com/JaneGoodall and @JaneGoodallInst.