These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.

Kiana Bonnick is building climate-resilient communities locally and internationally. This 28-year-old uses her spare time, as operations director of Womxn Of Colour Durham Collective (WOCDC), to provide culturally sensitive opportunities for fun in local natural spaces, while creating community and building resilience. Kiana has worked with the United Nations and, through the Black Diplomats Academy, she has been a representative at the UN’s first session of the Permanent Forum on People of African Descent, helping engage Black and racialized women and non-binary voices in international climate decision-making.

Tell us about your project.

We Outside and Get Outdoors offer free recreational, educational and wellness programs geared toward young self-identified racialized women, femmes and non-binary people. Both provide safer spaces for youth to talk about mental health and well-being, explore sports and recreation, and build peer-to-peer relationships and community. We offer a range of free activities, from yoga and hikes to snowshoeing.

We promote access and inclusion in green spaces within Durham Region, helping folks get comfortable interacting with these spaces as we explore what it is to be racialized settlers or newcomers on Indigenous land. Participants relax and have fun in a park or trail area they may be unfamiliar with because even though it is close to their home, they may not know it exists or they may not feel welcome. We move locations so people explore more of the non-built environment in their community. “Fireside chats” offer a chance to talk and meet BIPOC leaders experienced in helping people get comfortable outside.

There’s a sentiment that you have to leave Durham to find community and foods that are culturally representative of who you are. WOCDC partners with local businesses that invite participants to celebrate our presence and shop or eat close to home, rather than choosing bigger metropolises farther away. Participants learn they can find services they need in their home community. This reduces the need for long commutes, develops the local community infrastructure, increases belonging and builds the kinds of connections that allow people to see each other as available to help in an emergency. Participants feel connected to each other, to service providers and the place they live. This is powerful.

How did you get into this work?

I thought my career would be in biotechnology. But after questioning how reactive communities continue to be to completely foreseeable events like flooding, I asked how I could help with the planning we must all do to be ready. Through my education in Canada and England and my UN experience in Indonesia, I learned about the importance of building community resilience. It begins with a web of place-based relationships.

As operations director of Womxn Of Colour Durham Collective, Kiana Bonnick, 28, provides culturally sensitive opportunities for fun in local natural spaces, while creating community and building resilience. #YouthClimateAction
Treetop trek with We Outside participants. Photo submitted by Kiana Bonnick

What makes it hard?

It is hard to have patience when climate change is not waiting. Changing systems from the roots up takes time. Staying hopeful is a process.

Funders sometimes see WOCDC as a niche project without impact on the whole population. Even when we do get grants, there is little available for day-to-day operations. I have a meaningful day job at the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, which also engages people on climate change and sustainability, but even there, it is often tough to ensure sufficient funds to allow the organization and its programs to run smoothly.

What keeps you awake at night?

I don't think everyone is ready for the climate impacts that are arriving already and are likely to get more intense. We really need our health-care, economic and social systems to work when we must contend with high heat or deep cold or flooding or drought.

What gives you hope?

The creative and innovative work being done here at home and globally to address climate change.

What do you see if we get this right?

People will have understood the synergies between fixing our economic, political and social systems and coping well with climate change. They will see everyone is involved and everyone’s voice matters. Tech solutions cannot be implemented without community.

What would you like to say to other young people?

This is a collective issue and we need collective action. Tap into what you enjoy, whether it be art or coding, to bring change in your own way.

Get curious. Right now, I am learning from small island states at the forefront of climate change. They are right up against it but they are not going silently and they are being creative. What are they doing, and can we do that, too?

What about older readers?

Everyone’s journey is different and support takes many forms.

Take some time to think about who helped bring the pleasures in your own life. That cup of coffee you drank while reading this profile had a lot of hands on it. Were they paid well? Was the earth where the coffee plant grew treated with respect? Just asking questions first yourself and then in widening circles can be a powerful force for change. You have more influence than you know. Please use it.