Global youth activist visits Roaring Fork Valley schools, in Aspen on Friday | AspenTimes.com

Global youth activist visits Roaring Fork Valley schools, in Aspen on Friday

Tatiana Flowers
Glenwood Springs Post Independent

His activism started when he was just 6 years old. He'd witnessed his own parents' and siblings' involvement with environmental activism within their community and in no time, he said he also felt the urge to step up to the plate.

"I was like, 'Mom, how can I get involved? How can I speak out and be a part of this,'" said Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, now 17.

With her advice, his first debut came in the form of speaking to a crowd of about 100 people at a rally in Boulder. He specifically addressed the parents in the crowd, asking them to better educate their children, to "teach them to recognize our connection to the planet."

After that he said, "I just got really interested in continuing to do it."

Since then, Martinez has been at the forefront of a global, youth-led movement that works to inspire other teens to fight against climate change and other controversial environmental issues.

He's working on a new hip-hop album that will be released on tour this summer. He's also one of the lead plaintiffs suing the federal government for "failing to act on climate change," and he's the youngest person to have addressed the United Nations.

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He published a book last September and his desire to speak in front of youth in various schools has brought him to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Peru, Brazil, and the list goes on.

"It's a struggle because what I do is really heavy work," Martinez said. "It's really a lot to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders on a daily basis."

But he said what keeps him going is connecting with other young people who are on the same or a similar path, who have a vision of creating a better world.

"Who remembers a lot of the wildfires we've had in Colorado," Martinez asked an auditorium full of students and teachers at Roaring Fork High School on Thursday, as he raised one hand.

A few hundred people raised their hands quietly in response.

"We see all over the world that people are being displaced because of this crisis," Martinez added, as more than 300 students and teachers looked on.

Although his activism has taken him all over the world, the indigenous Aztec said he has a special connection to Colorado since he was born in Boulder and raised between there and Mexico City.

He and some of the students who attended the event share a perspective: There's no better time than now to discuss the effects of climate change in the state.

"I got all of my information here and I know a lot of my peers did the same," said Iliana Castillon, a senior at Roaring Fork High School and president of the school's energy club.

"I'm 18, and a bunch of us are going to be getting old enough to vote and have our voices heard," she said, adding, "It's important to be aware of how your vote will affect your community and the impact (it has) on the environment around you."

Lara Whitley, communications manager for the Carbondale-based resource conservation group Community Office for Resource Efficiency, said she helped set up the event to encourage students to save energy.

"We see a lot of kids in the valley that are really passionate about different projects," she said.

"Our goal is to activate their own social power, not just about one certain thing, but around what they believe in."

She and members of another similar group, Clean Energy Economy for the Region (CLEER), are inspiring students to do that by participating in a competition that would require students to post on social media their attempts to save energy.

Aspen High School, Glenwood Springs High School and Roaring Fork High School will compete for a $2,000 scholarship as well as other grants starting Saturday. The winning school, with the most participation, will be announced mid-May.

"I think it's important for kids to see someone who looks more like them, kind of leading the way, showing them that there is a way for their voice to be heard," said Rob Norville, a science teacher at Glenwood Springs High School.

He said he thinks it's important to see Martinez acting as a role model and showing youth that this is not necessarily something they could become when they're older, but something they can be right now.

"We all have a part to play," Martinez said to students. "And I invite you all to get involved."

Martinez is scheduled to speak at schools in the Aspen area today.