Long Beach middleschooler wins global award for video about environmental racism

Thirteen-year-old Westerly School student Stephanie Akinfolarin was taking a lunch break from her online class studies when she received a phone call with some very exciting news. Though, she almost didn’t pick up the phone.

“I thought it was a telemarketer. So, [when] I picked it up, and I didn’t realize it. They said that I got second place. I was extremely shocked,” Akinfolarin said.

Akinfolarin won second place for her animated video on environmental racism in the World of 7 Billion video contest, an international competition that highlights global health and environmental issues. Her win is no small feat, considering the competition received submissions from over 3,000 students in middle and high school from 44 countries and 49 U.S. states.

In Akinfolarin’s one-minute video, she examines the disproportionate impact of climate change and industrialization on communities of color while also calling for solutions like stricter zoning laws and more green spaces in most affected neighborhoods.

“I’ve always been interested in things environmentally,” she explained, but admitted she knew very little about environmental racism before she decided to enter the competition.

“Doing research helped me to see the significance of the issue. How environmental justice has a big effect on the Black community and Hispanic communities. Background research really helped me see the severity of the situation,” she said.

Though research took up the bulk of her time, the animation she created using Animaker, a DIY animation software, took about two weeks to complete. In the video, a cartoon depiction of Akinfolker guides the audience through the fundamentals of environmental racism while providing clear, data driven solutions. It’s short, succinct and finely articulated.

Akinfolarin’s mother, Toyin Akinfolarin, described her daughter as determined and very curious of the world around her.

“I was really so proud of her. But I was not surprised,” Toyin Akinfolarin said. “She has always had that in her to go out there and talk about how to advocate for people of color, especially in those communities where she feels like people need more.”

Though having only just turned 14—today, in fact—the Nigerian-American middle school student has been involved in her community as a volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific, various city beach clean-ups and as a youth commissioner for the parks department in Carson, where she currently lives.

“It drives me insane when I see plastic on the floor or on the water. I like to do that knowing I’m doing my part to keep out waters cleaner,” she said of her involvement with beach clean-ups.

In addition to the accolades, the second-place winner in the competition receives a cash prize of $600. How does Akinfolarin plan on spending her prize money? On school supplies, naturally, as come fall this year Akinfolarin will begin her first semester of high school at Cate School, a boarding school 11 miles from Santa Barbara.

Akinfolarin said she plans on pursuing a degree in criminal justice or law in college, so that she may continue her advocacy for communities of color and other disadvantaged communities.

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Cheantay Jensen is reporter and award-winning videographer who covers entertainment, art, food and culture for the Hi-lo section of the Long Beach Post. And sometimes breaking news, you know, just to keep things interesting.