Students engaging with a map during the Teach-In on Sustainability

Teach-In on Sustainability: Transforming Narratives for Climate Justice

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Think about this for a minute. Do you agree or disagree with the following statements: 

I believe my neighborhood is beautiful.

I believe that my neighborhood has enough parks and green spaces.

I believe that my neighborhood is dirty. 

I can get fresh produce within walking distance in my neighborhood.

When I go outside, I feel like I can breathe clean air.

I can easily take public transportation in my neighborhood.

I believe that my neighborhood has a lot of potential.

These were some of the questions presented by high schoolers from the Environmental Chelsea Organizers (ECO) youth corps from GreenRoots — an environmental protection organization based in Chelsea, Massachusetts — as  part of a workshop held during Emerson’s Teach-In on Sustainability on March 29. The event was the first formal collaboration between the Engagement Lab and GreenRoots, which will serve as one of the core partners of the ELab’s second Social Impact Initiative, Transforming Narratives for Climate Justice.  

The responses to ECO’s questions varied, but it was clear that each of us could identify both positives and negatives about our neighborhoods. What particularly stood out to me was that the majority of us, regardless of where we live, believe that there is potential for growth. This reflects one of the key ideas of the Transforming Narratives for Climate Justice initiative: that environmental issues are relevant to all of us, and that we’ll need to work together to imagine meaningful solutions. As with the Engagement Lab’s first Social Impact Initiative, Transforming Narratives of Gun Violence, the aim is to leverage the skillsets and resources of Emerson, as a leading arts and media institution, to partner with grassroots organizations to co-create stories  through documentary films, engaged journalism, video games, etc. ultimately to inspire solutions. 

While climate change does affect everyone,  climate justice organizers recognize the disproportionate impacts on low income communities and communities of color, seeking solutions to address the root causes of climate change while addressing a broad range of social, racial and environmental injustices. Following the lead of community partners in the climate justice space, the Transforming Narratives for Climate Justice initiative will focus specifically on climate change’s local impacts here in Boston and in Massachusetts as a whole. 

We will launch with two Social Impact Studios in the fall 2023 semester. The studios — Creative Expression for Climate Justice and Future Imaginaries: Unwritten Stories of Climate Change and Sustainability — will be taught alongside community partners Speak for the Trees, and GreenRoots, respectively. Representatives from each organization will attend classes with students each week, and can earn transferable college credit as part of the process. Through these studio courses, we are creating structures for long-term relationships and partnerships. 

According to economics professor Nejem Raheem, senior fellow at the Engagement Lab, and chair of the Department of Marketing Communication, we are taking the communication and arts skills that make Emerson unique and we’re bringing them to bear on the issue of environmental justice. Raheem added that he believes one of the key issues with tackling climate change is a failure of clear communication,  rather than  a lack of science- or data-driven solutions. 

By bridging the long-term organizing work of local activists with the communications, design, and artistic skills of Emerson students and faculty, the Transforming Narratives for Climate Justice initiative is uniquely suited to tackle the complexity of these issues by utilizing creative tools to be a part of the solution. 


Sharon-Hephzibah Mohie,

ELab Writing Assistant