Want to hear youth voices on climate change?

Climate Speaks 2019 will be presented on the evening of June 14th at the Apollo Theater.


Climate Speaks: a youth spoken word program about climate change.

March – june 2019


Around the world, young people are stepping up to confront inaction on climate change, gun violence, racial injustice, and a host of other urgent social problems. Youth voices are changing our world for the better. Climate Speaks presents an opportunity for NYC high schoolers to join in and make a difference.

The Climate Speaks program, which was recently highlighted in The New York Times, has three main components.

  1. Workshops: First, students had the chance to learn about climate change and how to use poetry to inspire action. Free workshops were offered in every borough. Workshop participants were invited to submit an original climate themed poem.

  2. Coaching: Students whose work is selected will receive intensive, free performance coaching and mentoring and the chance to rehearse and audition to be a Climate Speaks finalist.

  3. Performance: Finalists will receive additional coaching to prepare for a concert at the Apollo Theater on June 14!

Climate Speaks is presented in partnership with the NYC Department of Education Office of Sustainability and with special thanks to Urban Word NYC.


How does it work?


Climate Speaks runs from March–June 2019. The program has three phases:

1. Workshops

Students registered for FREE workshops to explore connections between climate change, social justice, and the arts, taught by experts in climate issues and expert poets and performers. They also met other high schoolers who want to make a difference, and received more information on how to participate in the Climate Speaks writing and performance competition. Workshops were available in every borough; click below to learn more!

After attending a Climate Speaks workshop, students were invited to submit an original poem or rap, either as an individual or as a part of a duo. Students submitted their work through an online portal; submissions were due Sunday April 14.


Students chosen to continue in the program will receive multiple opportunities for in-depth performance coaching and mentoring by expert poets and performers. They will participate in a live rehearsal followed by additional coaching, prior to auditioning before a panel of judges May 13 and May 15, 2019.

Finalists will receive intensive additional performance coaching and participate in a formal dress rehearsal.

3. Performance

On Friday June 14, 2019, finalists will perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, raising awareness about the climate crisis and inspiring the audience to spread the word and take action. All Climate Speaks workshop participants will receive free tickets to the performance so they can celebrate their peers.

Winners in several categories will be selected by a panel of judges, and we will provide ongoing educational, performance, and leadership opportunities for all Climate Speaks participants.


Who is eligible?


You must meet the following criteria in order to apply for the Climate Speaks competition:

  1. You must be enrolled in and attending high school in Spring 2019.

  2. You must live in the New York Metropolitan area.

  3. You must attend one Climate Speaks workshop in March–April 2019, prior to submitting your written application on April 14.

You don’t need any previous experience with climate advocacy, poetry writing, or the performing arts to participate.

All students who continue after the workshop phase are expected to attend one or more performance training sessions in May 2019, and participate in the auditions for the final round, which will take place May 13-15.

All finalists are expected to attend two or more performance training and mentoring sessions in late May 2019, and to participate in the final performance on June 14 at the Apollo Theater.


How do I apply?


To participate in Climate Speaks, you must register for and attend one Climate Speaks workshop. Workshops were offered in March and April in all five boroughs; registration is now closed.

Students who attended a workshop were granted access to an online application portal, where they were asked to submit:

  1. One original poetry or rap piece focused on climate change and social justice, broadly defined, that can be read aloud in three minutes.

  2. One short essay (200 words) that describes their interest in climate change and/or the performing arts, and explains why you’d be a good fit for the Climate Speaks program.

Written applications were due on April 14, 2019.

Judging criteria

We’re looking for strong climate messaging, vivid storytelling, and use of poetic technique.

  1. Climate messaging: Does your poem convey a clear message about climate change and how it affects us? Is it clear who your audience is, and what you want them to know, feel, and/or do?

  2. Storytelling: Does your poem tell a compelling story? Does it use imagery to captivate the reader? (Remember: it doesn't have to be a story about you!)

  3. Poetic technique: Is your poem well-structured? Do you make use of techniques such as repetition, alliteration, metaphor, etc?


Why spoken word?


Letter from the director

We have seen the hunger youth have for creative ways of engaging with climate action, and how their imagination and vision inspire audiences. Climate Speaks will galvanize performers and listeners alike.

In January 2018, the Climate Museum developed a workshop focused on bridging art and science in climate advocacy. We provided 16 high school students from across New York City the opportunity to create innovative media designed to engage their peers in climate dialogue. To our surprise, having been given magic markers and iPads, many of the students chose to use spoken word. The energy in the room and the extraordinary work the participants created made us aware of the urgent need for programming that uplifts youth voices on climate change.

Acting on this recognition, in September 2018 we presented a spoken word performance at a major impact investment conference in Park City, Utah. Working with Urban Word NYC, the Climate Museum team brought together a team of six New York youth, training them in climate communications, mentoring them on poetry, and giving them room to lead. Young poets who had never written about climate change came together with young climate activists on our Youth Advisory Council who had never performed poetry. Together, they created and choreographed a 15-minute climate justice-themed spoken word piece, sharing powerful words and calling hundreds of conference attendees to action. The audience was transfixed by the poets’ talent, compassion, and power. The six poets from Utah are now the Climate Speaks Youth Leadership Team, advising the Climate Museum and conducting outreach and recruitment.

Young people deserve better than climate chaos and they know it. The recent report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sounded a new level of alarm, intensifying the call to transform our society to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and build towards a more equitable, climate-safe future. We still have time to act, though the window is shrinking. Youth voices cut through the accumulated fog of passivity, driving home the moral imperative of immediate action.


“Traveling to Utah was an amazing and worthwhile experience that I’ll never forget.

The idea of sharing my creativity on something I am passionate about with a large

audience was nerve-wracking at first but with every workshop I grew more confident.

Overall, the experience brought me out of my shell, and I’m really excited to help plan

Climate Speaks.”

—Anya Martinez, Climate Museum Youth Advisory Council member and poet

knowles headshot.jpg

“We kicked off our event with a spoken word performance from these brilliant young

leaders who provided the inspiration and urgency we needed to have a productive

retreat. The students were incredibly passionate, authentic and well-versed on climate

change. They engaged with our community and were true leaders in the discussion.”

—Thomas Knowles, Partner at Gratitude Railroad

2018-09, Utah Gratitude Railroad.jpg