When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Mycelium Youth Network rolled with the punch. The pandemic came as a surprise to them as much as anyone, but Mycelium pivoted quickly to online programming.
Nevertheless, the transition was a bitter pill to swallow. Leading into Covid, Mycelium was poised to drastically expand the reach of its programming by teaching courses through Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), among others. They had secured the contracts and built the curriculum—then the pandemic turned the education landscape upside down.
A July 2019 story about Mycelium in Estuary News explored the organization’s work to train youth of color in climate adaptation and mitigation. Pre-Covid programming in their “Water is Life” curriculum included workshops on rainwater catchment systems, water filtration, and identifying native plants around local water bodies in East Oakland. Now the organization has moved education online.
When many organizations balked at the prospect of going virtual, Mycelium leaned into it. At their November conference, “Apocalyptic Resilience: An Afro-Indigenous Adventure,” Mycelium gamified the educational experience, aiming to make it more interactive for over 140 youth and adult attendees alike. Cosplay and avatars were highly encouraged, and participants gained abilities and skills with each conference session attended, equipping them for a closing virtual Dungeons and Dragons game. Conference content spanned Indigenous fire management practices, how to write environmental legislation, herbalism and plant first aid, channeling somatic focus for resilience, and live musical performances.
Youth not only populated the audience, they also took the virtual center stage as keynote speakers. For Mycelium, fostering youth climate leadership requires granting real institutional and organizational power to youth and serious credence to their demands and wisdom. “We need to talk about adultism. Too often in the climate movement, youth are tokenized as symbols of hope, while their ideas are dismissed and their demands are ignored,” says Lil Milagro Henriquez, Mycelium’s Founder and Executive Director. Isha Clarke, a youth climate justice activist who gave a keynote, is all too familiar with adultism. She hopes the climate justice coalition will expand, and more adults will join the youth leading the movement. “We need adults to recognize their responsibility for fighting this fight with us,” Clarke says.
Despite recent challenges, Mycelium has found their stride, developing a new partnership with the Exploratorium and a game plan to share their lessons beyond OUSD and SFUSD. What’s more, they are incubating a new mentorship program that unites Bioneers, WeRise Productions, and AcclimateWest to mentor BIPOC youth in storytelling.
Prior Estuary News Story: Youth Learn as World Shifts
Top Illustration: Amy Tam