Jaysa Meller, 13, has been making her voice heard since she was 10 years old. That’s when she began appealing to the powers that be in Bridgeport, Connecticut to shut down various plants polluting the town’s air. But not everywhere in Bridgeport. What Meller noticed, even at her young age, was the plants were only impacting the city’s urban areas. There’s a term for this: environmental racism.
Lynne Cherry, the founder of Young Voices for the Planet, began making films about youth taking a stand for the environment and, subsequently, against climate change. Meller is the latest kid to be featured in one of Cherry’s films. The title of the film: Words Have Power. “What’s key about these films,” Cherry tells Parentology, “is the belief of these young people that their actions can make a difference.”
At six, Meller developed asthma; something prevalent amongst students in her school. Looking for a cause drew attention to the various plants located in her neighborhood — garbage, sewage, landfill and coal-fired power — and the toxins they spewed.
“A lot of environmental degradation is essentially an environmental justice issue,” Cherry says. “The companies that own these power plants look for communities that are poor, less organized and not prone to resist.”
When Healthy Connecticut Alliance asked Meller to speak at a Bridgeport City Hall event targeted towards getting the coal-fire plant retired, she agreed, writing her own speech and taking to the podium.
Meller drew on her heroes when waging her campaign to close down Bridgeport’s plants. At the top of her heroes list — her parents… Lessons Meller drew from other heroes:
“Harriet Tubman proved if you put your mind to it, you’ll be able to free yourself from oppression.”
MLK proved that not every conflict has to be solved with violence.
What she learned that day at city hall? “I just say what I’m feeling — it sounds a lot more powerful when you talk from the heart.”
Meller saw the impact of her words — “She was instrumental in getting the coal-fired plant shut down,” Cherry says.
Meller continues to make her words heard and, as a result, her neighborhood a healthier place to live.
Cherry puts it succinctly, “As the film title states: Words Have Power… Jaysa’s words have power.”
*See the entire Words Have Power film at Young Voices for the Planet.