Jonathan Law student sets sights on environmental activism

“The green is turning brown, the white is turning blue. But can one black girl really make a difference?”

That is how Rhea Grant, a local 16-year-old, started the essay that helped earn her the Yale Bassett Award for Community Engagement, which honors emerging leaders who have distinguished themselves through leadership and public service.

Rhea, a junior at Jonathan Law High School, is among 20 high school juniors, out of 800 applicants, to receive the award, established by Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity and Transnational Migration.

“The 2017 winners demonstrate wide-ranging areas of commitment,” states an award announcement. “They have advocated for the conservation of endangered species, clean water, interfaith understanding, tribal food sovereignty, and awareness of diseases like hepatitis B and liver cancer.”

Rhea is a go-getter on several levels. She was recently sworn in for her second term as a member of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut board of directors. A Scout since she was a young Daisy Scout living in New York, and now a member of Troop 08860 in Milford, she is preparing to earn her Gold Award, the highest award in scouting.

Her two older sisters, Raeven, 19, and Jenelle, 18, have earned their Gold Awards, and Rhea said her two siblings, now in college, have been an inspiration to her.

As a member of the Girl Scout board, Rhea helps provide a young woman’s perspective on programming and decisions.

In addition to scouting, Rhea has worked on environmental issues with the group Groundwork USA, which is devoted to “transforming the natural and built environment of marginalized communities.” In 2015, she attended Groundwork’s national conference in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where she got to weigh in on conversations about difficult subjects, such as environmental justice and what Groundwork USA could do to promote change.

Environmental justice, Rhea explained, is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the enforcement of environmental laws and policies.”

“I believe that everyone is born with the right to be exposed to nature and the right to protect it,” Rhea wrote in her Yale Bassett Award essay. “However, often times, power plants and other harmful institutions are placed in low income minority neighborhoods.”

She said her work with Groundwork has inspired her to “do something big.” She wants to empower this generation to bring positive change to the environment.

Rhea is very involved at Jonathan Law High School, too. She plays soccer and is on the track team. She’s a member of the Interact Club, Key Club and the National Honor Society, and she’s secretary of the junior class and treasurer of the Science Club.

While she hasn’t started the college application process yet, she’d like to study environmental science at Yale.

Rhea believes that climate change is the biggest environmental issue the world faces today, and she would like to take a leadership role in bringing about environmental changes that slow down climate change. While people easily talk about car emissions and misuse of electricity, she said, they steer away from more sensitive contributors to climate change, such as animal agriculture.

The daughter of Renae and Patrick Grant, she said she would like to make more people aware of environmental equality and environmental activism, and help lead people toward making changes.

“I’ve realized that I have the power to lead my peers because I now understand that, yes, one student can make a difference,” she wrote in her essay, “and even a small group can make a huge impact.”