San Rafael teen activist advocates for environment, social justice

Harita Kalvai was only in middle school when the Atlas Fire burned throughout Napa County in 2017, one of the large fires of the Northern California firestorm. While she and her family de ella in San Rafael were luckily not impacted, she knew people who were and who had evacuated. She discovered how it touched people who had different living situations.

It was a wakeup call that climate change isn’t an issue to be pushed off for later, but instead needs to be dealt with now. This led the junior at the Marin School of Environmental Leadership (MarinSEL) and Terra Linda High School into environmental and social justice activism, working with such organizations as Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Beyond Differences and SLAM! (Student Leaders’ Antiracist Movement).

Last year, the 16-year-old was named Marin Poetry Center’s inaugural teen poet — her term is up in a few weeks — and during her time, shared her poetry and helped plan poetry events.

Courtesy of Piper Egan

Terra Linda High School junior Piper Egan’s work will be featured in an art exhibit at Earth 2050.

In April 2021, she started Youth Action Through Art, a group that focuses on how youth can use art to fuel social change. It will showcase an art exhibit that explores what youth think the world will look like in the future as part of Mill Valley’s Earth 2050 celebration from 1 to 5 pm April 24 at the Mill Valley Community Center at 180 Camino Alto. Register for the free event on Eventbrite.

Q What made you want to be a part of MarinSEL?

A I wanted to learn about the environment and I am passionate about social justice and noticed those things are super linked together. Climate change impacts different communities in different ways, so I wanted to learn about those different connections.

Q With Earth Day coming up, are you hopeful for the future?

A Honestly, I am. I feel a lot of people my age want to go out and make a change, and they take the time to educate themselves on climate change. I have done a lot of work with conservative youth all over and they agree that climate change is real and an issue that needs to be talked about. It’s slowly becoming a non-partisan issue, which is a good thing. It’s impacting communities right now and as our climate crisis gets worse, more marginalized communities will be impacted more and more. It’s important we do things now to prevent any more damage from happening. I think that every teenager in Marin County has an opportunity to get involved if they want to. There are tons of organizations. Find something that interests you and find something that is related to environmental justice that surrounds it.

Q What inspired your mission of using art to fuel social change?

A I do music and writing. The nice thing with both of those things, especially when it comes to poetry, is that it gives you a chance to go in front of a crowd and share your art and how you feel. I started playing the piano at a young age and saw firsthand how much music could impact people, and I also just got a chance to see how it could impact me. There were people who I would see play and I would be so moved by what they had done. I feel the same way about writing, like a good piece of poetry or a good speech, so that made me realize that art is underrated in the sense that people didn’t talk about how much change it can make. When you think of the word innovator, I don’t think the word “artist” comes to mind. I want to use art to show people that you can make change and you can make change from an environmental perspective. Youth Action Through Art was a way for me to show my feelings about activism in ways I knew how to do it.

Q What do you write about in your poetry?

A What I mostly write about is activism and about climate change. I have done a lot of poetry especially last year about racism and how racism has impacted me personally, so lots of different things related to social justice.

Q What motivates you to keep on with your activism?

A Meeting people from lots of different places and groups, talking to people who have had different experiences than me, talking to people who have unconventional experiences and seeing how certain issues really impact a person. That’s what really keeps me going.

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