by Shannon Quist, ’00, ’04
Where can you find a diverse gathering of students and professionals working in fields ranging from environmental justice and education to civil rights and public health? When can you hear an open conversation among emerging leaders as well as those already established in the environmental community?
This past October, such a group of leaders converged at Summit 2007: Diverse Partners for Environmental Progress in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I was excited to be among the participants.
This summit had its origins in the fall of 2005, when a group of more than 90 people in environmental justice, public health, conservation, faith-based and community organizations came together in a ground breaking conference. This cross-disciplinary gathering brought together individuals and organizations with diverse racial, cultural, socio-economic, and professional backgrounds working in the wide range of areas.
While at times it seems to me that there is a growing gap between those established in the environmental community and those of us searching for our place, Summit 2007 provided a forum to bridge those gaps. Recognizing that variations in age bring differences in perspective, students and young professionals from all aspects of the environmental community were empowered, as emerging leaders, to share our thoughts and experiences.
By adding our diverse voices to those of the established leaders, we will create a stronger and broader network of advocates. The hope is to add an intergenerational voice to the ongoing conversation among community leaders, environmental and otherwise, at the summit and beyond.
To lay the groundwork for this focus, Iantha Gantt-Wright (who will be speaking at SCA’s EarthVision Summit  next April) and others on the planning committee served as the guidance and support for the development of the Emerging Leaders Summit to lead us into the larger Summit.
As an SCA alumna, I was invited to take part in the organization and facilitation of the conference, along with other students and young professionals affiliated with SCA, Sierra Club, Indigenous Environmental Network, Outward Bound, and Kiamsha Youth Empowerment Group. Several other SCA alumni and staff members also attended the summit as conference planners and participants. In all, more than 30 individuals from over 20 organizations identified by fellow youth, organization leaders, and planning committee members came together to represent the voices of the emerging leaders to the broader group.
Beginning a day prior to the larger conference, the Emerging Leaders Summit launched the four days of sessions with an inclusive conversation based on an environmental justice case study. For a full day, those of us who participated worked to explore and communicate our perspectives on the case study and other issues and initiatives important to us.
Fully integrated into the conference, we emerging leaders served as the key-note speakers for the opening session, setting the tone for Summit 2007. Many priorities we identified were discussed in the larger forum, including: the importance of diverse voices and perspectives, coalition building, development of shared language, and the necessity to empower intergenerational mentoring relationships within the environmental community. As one goal, participants of Summit 2007 indicated the importance of connectivity and communication, among all interested individuals and organizations involved in the range of environmental fields.
Summit 2007 was a time for empowerment, motivation, open discussion, and calls for positive change among diverse partners and organizations. At the same time, all of us acknowledged the vast amount of work still to come. If you are interested in learning more about the conference or joining the discussions, please visit the Partners for Environmental Progress  website.
Photos: Top: Emerging Leaders Summit group; Middle: Emerging Leaders in session; Bottom: Entire Diverse Partners Summit group. All photos: Kandi Mossett, SCA alumna, 2001.