When it comes to motivating a community and making your voice heard, few people do it better than 17-year old Riley Stevenson. From raising awareness on climate change to protesting gun violence, to fiercely debating an important topic, there isn’t much that can slow this rising star down.
Representing Youth Priorities
Riley is fully aware of the threats facing America’s youths and refuses to sit idly by. This means a strong focus on gun violence and climate change; threats that face American students in their classrooms and in their environments. Lucky for us, Riley isn’t stopping at recognizing the problems: she’s working on solving them with thoughtful leadership and action.
Fighting Gun Violence with an Open Mind
In 2018, after the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, and during the height of the #NeverAgain movement, Riley saw the opportunity to make a change at her own school of Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, ME. She organized a walk-out for students at her school, but was unprepared for the backlash she received from her peers and the community.
Despite―and partially due to―this negative reaction, she worked to understand the opinions of her pro-gun classmates. In a post she wrote for the Maine Public entitled “Student Dialogue, Leadership Builds Common Ground for Gen Z,” Riley describes finding the common ground that no student wants to die in their school.
Defending Our Future
A year later, in 2019, Riley helped organize a climate strike in Newcastle with her fellow Lincoln Academy Climate Action Club member Jojo Martin. Issues relating to climate change are particularly close to Riley’s heart, inspiring her to take on the role of Coordination Director for the Maine Chapter of the Youth Climate Strikes, an international, youth-led effort to raise awareness of the threat of climate change and generate positive actions to address the crisis.
Her actions have inspired others in her community as displayed in a rally of over 90 people on a freezing November day in Newcastle. Riley also organized a simultaneous rally in nearby York.
“I think that climate change is the biggest issue that my generation is facing,” Riley responded when asked what issue has her heart. “It encompasses so many other issues that are important to me, including social justice.”
A Transition into Activism
Riley cites her family as the catalyst for many of her inspiring extra-curricular activities. As the youngest of four siblings, she’s spent much of her youth working to keep up with the political discussions of her three older brothers and her parents.
In her own words, her family has always been “loud and outspoken.” After moving to Waldoboro at age 10, Riley remembers her parents taking a more hands-off, but supportive role in her life, encouraging her to explore and allowing her to develop her own interests and political beliefs.
“I’ve seen the path that brothers have followed and I’ve seen what things they’re interested in,” Riley said, “a lot of my interests have ended lining up with those of my siblings.”
Charting a New Course
Riley landed in Midcoast Maine from Princeton, NJ at a young age and her life here wasn’t always easy. From experiencing the social difficulties of breaking into pre-existing friend groups, to leaving her brothers behind in Princeton, while they continued their own pursuits, Riley has worked hard to learn her way and establish herself as a leader and community organizer.
Though Riley realizes how important Maine and her community have been to help shape who she is as a person and activist, she eventually intends to leave the state to gain different life experiences and skills. Her interest in the environment may lead her to a career in law or marine biology, and hopefully back to Maine someday.
Berman & Simmons recognizes Riley’s leadership, compassion, and drive to make her community better, and we’re proud to award her with $250, which she has elected to donate to the Maine chapter of Youth Climate Strike, and $500 to go directly toward her education.