How Youth Climate Activist Jerome Foster II Became the Voice for One Million Young People
High school students aren’t waiting around for solutions on issues that matter. Instead, they’re taking action. From advocating for student mental health to supporting students with disabilities, high schoolers across the country are taking initiative to build the world they want to live in. One of XQ’s core design principles is Youth Voice and Choice—the belief that by making students partners in their learning, educators can empower students as leaders and citizens. By providing learning that is interdisciplinary and student-centered, high schools can set up students to shape the future.
Jerome Foster II embodies this bold, creative approach to the future. He embodies what it means to be an XQ Learner—someone who captures the essence of XQ’s Learner Outcomes and is ready to take on tomorrow’s problems with inquisitiveness and generosity. We particularly see Jerome as an original thinker for an uncertain world and a generous collaborator for the future. For him, activism is more than making signs and marching. It’s a vocation that can imbue every aspect of your life, whether you’re a coder or an artist, or a high school student.
The Class of 2020 graduate of Washington Leadership Academy—an XQ school in Washington, D.C.—has devoted his life to fighting for change and inspires other young people to take action about issues that matter to them in their communities and beyond. Foster’s desire to serve his community connects to Washington Leadership Academy’s overall mission: to prepare graduates as global citizens and leaders of tomorrow. When WLA’s founding team of educators, parents, technologists, public servants, D.C. leaders, and young people came together to develop a high school, they wanted students to graduate motivated and prepared to change the world. Staff at WLA invest in students as activists and problem solvers, using a combination of technology, civics, social justice, and real-world learning. Foster applies these lessons from WLA in his activism today.
To hear more about his life, his journey, and how his education at WLA prepared him to lead a generation to create positive social change—we tapped Alexis, a student at Summit Shasta, to talk to Jerome about how students can follow in his footsteps. Their interview highlighted how Jerome has used his voice, both as a student and after graduating, to make a difference in the world, especially around climate change. Jerome also shared how WLA’s hands-on, real-world approach to learning and emphasis on social justice planted the seeds for his activism, showing him the power of young people to shape the future.
WLA students see the future and learn how to build it. The school prepares students to thrive in the world and empowers them to change it for the better. Like other XQ Schools, Washington Leadership Academy merges rigorous academics with real-world experiences, giving students the skills and knowledge to navigate a complex and rapidly-changing world. The school emphasizes building leaders and offers students the tools to take their big ideas and transform them into actionable goals. With a focus on internships and a clear goal of helping disenfranchised youth become leaders in tomorrow’s world, WLA offers an educational experience that allows students to trust themselves and their abilities to build a new world.
“Waiting for politicians to do something while we’re feeling unsafe in our classrooms and unsafe in our communities—that’s not what it’s about,” explained Foster.
While at WLA, Foster founded One Million of Us, a youth-led nonprofit that encourages young people to educate themselves about issues like climate change, social justice, and gun control; register and turn out to vote; and organize events in their communities. With chapters throughout the country, One Million of Us aims to mobilize a million young people to become engaged in the political process to create lasting, meaningful change.
Becoming a learner and leader for life
Foster credited his high school teachers with inspiring his career in activism and giving him the skills to succeed. He also credited the XQ approach to education, which prepares students to succeed in a changing future by emphasizing qualities like collaboration, creative thinking, and lifelong learning. WLA is a technology-focused school that provides computer science classes to all students all four years but also has a strong foundation in social justice and hands-on learning. WLA also provides students with access to high-quality internships to make connections and apply their learning in the real world. That combination of practical skills and the ability to tackle broad ideas resonated with Foster.
“Learning about coding, for example, really opened my eyes. It showed me how activist roles do not have to look the same. Not everyone has to be organizing and marching. Someone can be at the megaphone, but another person can be making the website, or working behind the scenes with the technology,” he said.
WLA also supports its 95 percent Black and 75 percent free-and-reduced lunch student body by investing in a mission and culture built around trust and support. With an emphasis on culturally responsive education, social justice themes are infused throughout the curriculum. The school’s leaders also focus on recruiting adults of color to consciously and consistently serve as teachers, professional partners, and mentors.
XQ Schools like Washington Leadership Academy give students the skills and confidence to go into the world and advocate for change, Foster explained.
“I think that’s what the XQ education is all about—empowering us to go out and make the changes that we want to see,” he said. “It’s about empowering my generation to be adventurous and try new things. And take action.
Currently, in addition to running One Million of Us, Foster serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, making him the youngest member of the Biden administration. Prior to that, he served as an intern for the late civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.). He served as co-editor-in-chief of The Climate Reporter, an environmental news organization, spoke at the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, and was interviewed by former Vice President Al Gore at the Climate Reality Project’s leadership training in 2019.
But he’s also engaged in on-the-ground, grassroots activism. For more than a year, he staged weekly climate strikes at the White House and Harvard University as part of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for the Future campaign to bring attention to the climate crisis. Foster also founded a virtual reality tech company called Tau VR that’s focused on civic engagement.
Inspiring One Million Young People
Foster works long days and juggles countless responsibilities, but he feels a sense of urgency, particularly regarding the changing climate. Young people, he said, no longer want to wait for politicians to take action.
“Young people have been the face of movements for so long. We’ve been the face of change in the Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war movement… And now our generation is coming of age and saying clean air and clean water, these are rights,” he said.
“And we have to lead the way because adults are not taking into account that the worst impacts of climate change are going to happen in our lifetimes,” he said. “We’re going to be the ones that press the envelope and say to politicians, you can’t just sit here. You have to take substantive action.”
High schoolers, are you ready to raise your voice in support of the issues that matter most to you and your generation?
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