Youth N’ Power Volunteer: Jaiden Ellington-Vasser

Jaiden admits she was skeptical when she first met staff and students of MNIPL’s Youth N’ Power program. Now she is one of its core members and a vibrant young teacher of climate justice.

It all started in 2019 when Jaiden was working for Redeemer Center for Life, which hosts MNIPL’s Youth N’ Power group. There she was introduced to the concepts of climate change and the intersection with racial justice issues.

“I saw how these issues are in my neighborhood,” she says. “North Minneapolis has the worst air quality in Minnesota. A lot of my friends have asthma. I began asking ‘Why is that and why is there a trash incinerator in my neighborhood, when it could have been placed somewhere far from people?’”

Naturally curious, the South High School junior soaked up discussions and learning and did her own research on climate justice issues. Perhaps taking after her mother, a teacher, Jaiden began sharing what she learned with people of all ages. “Everything you learn, you get to reach someone,” she says with an edge of glee.

Whether thinking through how to help young kids make sense of climate science, talking with her peers, or convincing her elders to take her seriously, Jaiden injects her teaching with enthusiasm and care. How does she get people to listen to her? “It is about building relationships,” she explains, “you have to get to know [a person] first.”

Jaiden changed her entire household over to LED lightbulbs to reduce electricity use. She maintains a garden of flowers and shrubs installed through a MNIPL partnership, and she is currently helping make holiday baskets for the Redeemer Christmas store that include vegetable and flower seed packets.

“You can make simple changes that make a big difference,” she says, “such as composting, creating less waste, planting trees.” Jaiden is part of a tree-planting project that magnifies an earlier replanting of trees devastated by the 2008 tornado. “Those trees planted earlier are cleaning the air now.”

Clean air has become even more important to Jaiden as the pandemic hit the state. “Covid goes for the lungs,” she explains, “and with the rate of asthma in our neighborhood, it is a recipe for disaster.” Jaiden does not herself suffer from asthma, but she has cousins and friends who do, and watching and caring for them has made her both “angry and heartbroken.”

Jaiden plans to channel that energy and emotion into guiding companies to adopt better climate plans and policies. On a recent visit to a business firm through a college prep program at her school, she realized she could combine her love of travel with her ability to teach and train others about climate justice action.

“That incinerator didn’t have to go in our neighborhood and it can be moved,” she says. “I want to travel nationally and internationally helping companies make better decisions about climate up front.”