We want to welcome everyone to the first day of our Community Forum events and thank you for being here today.

We know that, especially during this phase of the pandemic, showing up in community, especially online, takes effort and commitment. The fact that close to 250 people have registered for this year’s Forum is a testament to the importance of our work and the strength of the Coalition that we have built these past 15 years.

So thank you for being a part of the SEMIS Coalition and contributing in this way, and if you are new to the Coalition. Welcome! And thank you to the SEMIS Planning team for all of your work in leading the planning of this week’s events.

We want to especially thank the classroom teachers who are true heroes of our society and the community partners and educators who are here today. We can only imagine what life has been like for you as you’ve navigated and supported the youth you care for over the course of the pandemic. And we know that just being here today with everything going on is a bit of a miracle. Teachers–we appreciate you, we recognize what you do, and we love you.

We also want to acknowledge that there were others in the NOAA Environmental Literacy program, who have been doing incredible work, who wanted to be here but were not able to join today.

Finally, we want to welcome our featured presenters here today from AcTech in Ypsilanti Community Schools, and Renaissance H.S. in Detroit Public Schools Community District. We know how much courage it takes to be online and have discussions virtually.

This week, many of us have Buffalo and Ukraine on our minds and in our hearts. Our heart goes out to all who have suffered racist and fascist violence, abroad and in our own communities, historically, but especially over these past years.

And always we are faced with the question: what to do? What to do. Today, we embody one possible answer to that question.

One thing that we believe in the SEMIS Coalition is that If we don’t practice democracy, then we no longer have democracy. If we do not come together to discuss and act collectively on issues of public concern regularly, with the same level of intensity and commitment as good musicians practice their instruments, we don’t have democracy.

So today is an opportunity to practice democracy–to practice having a dialogue about one of our most significant issues of public concern–Climate change and Community Resilience.

We believe in the SEMIS Coalition that we are all interconnected and that diversity is a strength.

This is easy to say, but what does it mean?

One thing that it means is that we break down the barriers in our society between younger and older. It means that youth don’t have to wait to contribute to their communities and democracy, but should and can act now. And this should and can happen in their schooling.

Being interconnected and honoring diversity as a strength also means that our youth leaders aren’t hanging out there alone, but are supported by and in dialogue with those in older bodies, as well as other youth from other schools and communities. As the systems’ theorist Peter Senge has said, addressing our most vexing problems, such as climate change, is not about being the smartest person in the room, it is about pulling lots of perspectives together, each of us with our own strengths, each with our own smarts and perspectives, then looking for the interconnections.

So, it will take all of us, youth and adults, from many different communities, with many different perspectives dialoguing and making decisions together to address the climate crisis.

This means we have to trust each other, have affection for each other, feel that we can be vulnerable and take risks, make mistakes. We all know that this has been a difficult year at the end of a difficult couple of years, for example, because of COVID related challenges, we had to condense a year-long program into half a year, so we will need to pay extra special attention to supporting each other with compassion and understanding.

May 16, 2022.