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Climate Justice and Community Organizing – Patty’s Story

Welcome to our Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email lohmans@hecua.org. This dispatch comes from Emily Seru, HECUA’s Manager of Internships and Community Partnerships.

In her final year at the University of Minnesota as a Youth Studies Major, in 2012, Patty O’Keefe discovered that by participating in the HECUA Environmental Sustainability program, she could combine her passion for social justice and a newly discovered interest in environmental sustainability in the same semester. Through HECUA, Patty chose to intern with Minnesota 350, the local chapter of an international climate change movement.

A theater stage is set up for a talk, with a podium and a massive white screen that says: "Do the math." A large poster in the middle of the stage reads "350", and a woman to the right of it holds up her arms.

From www.mn350.org archives. “Check out this photo of MN350 published in the New York Times!  Kate Jacobson Faye and MN350 Interns Carly Dent, Patty O’Keefe, Patricia Lamas and Claire Krebs do MN350 proud.”

“It was the best decision I have ever made. It was my awakening to really understanding the world and my purpose in helping to strengthen and stimulate social movements by working with youth.” After HECUA, Patty stayed on with Minnesota 350, engaging young people on local campuses to lead the fossil fuel divestment movement.

A young woman smiles into the camera. She's wearing a bicycle helmet and a neon green pullover.

From www.mn350.org, where Patty is currently employed as the Divestment Coordinator. 

“I came into the program thinking about sustainability through a lens of making me feel like a better person, I left the program thinking about others beyond myself and my own gratification.” Although Patty feels the weight of the environmental and social problems in the world, she has hope for the future and the role she is playing working with youth movements and how young people see that systemic issues of injustice are interconnected. “I see students being more intent and committed to how they want to change the world. We must simultaneously address racial, economic, and inter-generational justice or we are not going to win in the way we need to win.”

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