SOUTH PORTLAND — Students and recent graduates of South Portland High School are working on a short documentary this summer about how climate change affects minority groups in the United States.

Through the program Gateway to Opportunity, South Portland’s sustainability office provided these students a paid work opportunity that taught them about climate change, Lucy Perkins, of the sustainability office, said.

Students and recent graduates of South Portland High School are working on a short documentary this summer about how climate change affects minority groups in the United States. One Climate Future photo

Gateway to Opportunity is program in the Greater Portland area that connects work-eligible youth with skill-building employment, said Gateway to Opportunity’s website. It has been providing employment opportunities to rising juniors and seniors since 2016.

The South Portland students involved in the documentary project, Tutu Oryem, Ruben Monterro, Reina Ruzigana and Anynk Oryem, said that they felt like climate change will impact their generation the most, and they feel like minority groups in the United States take the issue the most seriously.

The proximity of houses or apartments puts a strain on the environment and contributes to climate change, Tutu Oryem said.

“In the Black community, they can live in compacted apartments,” she said. “While communities have houses that are spread out.”

Metal straws are becoming an alternative solution to plastic ones, which, if improperly disposed of, can become pollution, Tutu Oryem said, but not everyone can afford a metal or reusable straw.

“In the school community, the economically disadvantaged take whatever (they) can get,” she said. “You might not be able to go out and buy something, like a straw. Grabbing a plastic one in the cafeteria might make you feel degraded.”

Monterro said that transportation is another contributor to climate change, and he and the other students have realized that walking or taking a bicycle to work or school is a small step that they and other local residents can take to make a difference.

Tasha Tracy of Opportunity Alliance, who has been overseeing the project, said that the students also looked at how South Portland could improve public transportation systems, allowing more people to opt for the bus instead of driving individual cars, and releasing fewer emissions each day.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have also caused white areas of the country to take climate change issues more seriously, similar to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tracy said. Problems that people ignored before now have illuminated in a state of unrest.

Although the cancellation of most in-person events and temporary job losses results in fewer cars on the road, the students said that they learned that more people inside means that energy used by air conditioners inside was higher.

Through the documentary the students hope to teach the youth how climate change may affect black people or minority groups, they said. They also want people to try and make changes to their daily lives.

“The best way to get people to take things more seriously is to do it yourself,” Tutu Oryem said. “It feels like a step in the right direction.”

The research and filming portions of the project are complete, Tracy said. The short film is now in the editing phase. It will be uploaded to YouTube.

For more information on the Gateway to Opportunity program, visit www.yceme.org/g2o.

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