Climate-change activist meets with students during Grand Rapids visit

Mustafa Santiago Ali enjoys chatting with WMCAT advanced videography students (from left) Micah Garmon of C.A. Frost Environmental Science Academy; Arieal Jackson of Grand Rapids University Prep Academy; Erion Adams of Grand Rapids Montessori; and Marc Ramirez of Grand Rapids UPrep

Kalil Adams loves hip-hop, but he never really connected it to global warming until he met Mustafa Santiago Ali.

The East Kentwood senior performed a hip-hop track about environmental justice for Ali, a former top official with the Environmental Protection Agency and climate-change activist with the Hip Hop Caucus. In recent performances at City High/Middle School and Aquinas College, Kalil and fellow members of All of the Above Hip Hop Academy rapped and danced an urgent message titled “There Needs to be Change.”

Precisely, Kalil said later.

“It’s something that should be paid attention to a lot more than what people believe it is,” Kalil said of global pollution and climate change. “It may not seem that big an issue, but there are people who literally are not able to breathe clean air.”

That’s the kind of passion about environmental concerns Ali says he is seeing in young people all across the country, as he brings his global-warning message to students through the lens of hip-hop culture.

“This is not a moment,” Ali said during a two-day string of appearances in Grand Rapids. “This is literally a movement,” similar to the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements. “There’s a reawakening.”

Students like Kalil are a leading force in that movement, seeing the perils that await their generation if they do not act to reverse climate change now, Ali added.

“I’m super-proud of all the young leaders. They’re changing the game. They’ve got folks on Capitol Hill shook.”