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Inspired by Teens – Young People Taking Action

Shedd’s Teen Council is a bright group of Chicago-area teens that serve as a sounding board for questions, feedback and suggestions related to Shedd’s teen programs and also supports teen growth and their development as leaders. Teen Council member Isabella Alnemri recounts what has inspired her to take action for the environment in all aspects of her life and how she sees hope for the future of our blue planet.

Isabella Alnemri smiles while in a kayak on the water, holding up her paddle.

Photo by: Isabella Alnemri

As a teenage resident of the Southeast side of Chicago I've grown accustomed to being welcomed by the foul smells of air pollution as I enter my neighborhood or being cautious about touching the soil in my own backyard from fear of it containing toxic metals.

This is caused by industrial polluters that have relocated from Chicago’s affluent neighborhoods to mainly Black and Latino low-income communities like my own. These moves are an example of environmental racism, which is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is a movement created in response to environmental racism.

Not only do those corporations pollute the water, air and soil, but those pollutants can cause health problems including respiratory illnesses like asthma and types of cancers. My concern for my own health and that of my family and community inspired me to organize an environmental racism informational session to bring awareness to the issue. By educating our community on environmental racism, my hope was to increase meaningful community involvement and inspire others to join the efforts of environmental justice organizations.

My compassion for animals, nature and wildlife also inspires the actions I take to care for the planet. Spending time in nature, whether it be hiking and canoeing at camp as a Girl Scout or taking walks at the park with my dog, gives me the chance to look around and appreciate the beautiful world around me.

Rocks along the south shoreline of Lake Michigan north of the city

Being a member of Shedd’s Teen Council allows me to have more frequent encounters with aquatic life like interacting with stingrays or simply walking around the aquarium. Building this relationship with nature impels me to protect it by volunteering for Shedd Aquarium Action Days along the Chicago River’s shoreline or pulling weeds in my community’s native garden.

Even simple things I do in my daily life are impactful, such as opting for reusable utensils, bags, straws or water bottles and limiting the amount of seafood I consume to take action against overfishing. I am also part of the Green Team at my high school where I help run our recycling program to reduce waste and conserve natural resources.

Being educated about and aware of environmental problems is just as important a means of inspiration for me. I wouldn’t have taken action in my community if I wasn’t aware of the health impacts potentially caused by the factories in my neighborhood. I started making different lifestyle choices after learning about the declining health of the ocean (destructive fishing techniques and plastic in the ocean hurting marine animals) from renown oceanographer Sylvia Earle at Shedd’s Immersion event this past spring.

Three young adults carry a heavy log between them as they assist with habitat restoration at Black Partridge Forest.
A dark brown sea lion caries a green bottle to a blue recycling bin on a wooden walkway.

All of these environmental problems may seem daunting, but there are actions being taken that give me hope for the future. The Chicago Department of Public Health recently denying Reserve Management Group’s permit to operate a recycling plant in my neighborhood is a testament to the importance of community involvement in environmental justice. It’s encouraging to see members of my community join these organizations in protests and hunger strikes, fighting to protect the health of our community.

I’m surrounded by teens in Shedd’s Teen Council who share the same curiosity and willingness to protect marine life as I do. I see other students dedicating their time after school to running our school’s recycling program. I hope to see increased awareness and support for environmental issues because together we can tackle these problems more effectively.

– IsabellaAlnemri, Shedd Aquarium Teen Council Member