Long Beach 17-year-old wins Brower Youth Award for environmental activism

Ten days before his 18th birthday, Hamid Torabzadeh left his first semester of med school at Brown University for a week-long visit to the Bay Area. There, the Long Beach native was joined by some of the brightest young minds from across North America who’ve dedicated themselves to environmental activism.

Torabzadeh was one of just six recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards, given annually to “outstanding youth leaders who are making strides in the environmental movement.” Torabzadeh was chosen for the coveted award thanks to his work with the American Red Cross, where he currently leads the Los Angeles READYteens Program.

Since 2000, the Brower Youth Awards have been presented by the New Leaders Initiative program of Earth Island Institute. Just prior to receiving their awards, the six winners got to participate in a weeklong forum focused on mentorship, training and networking.

“It’s really cool. I’ve just been talking to others who work on conservation, environmental justice, and they’re very inspiring,” he said of the experience. “Receiving the award, I’m obviously really excited to be here, but I think it’s a good reminder of the work we need to continue to do. Working together (with the other award recipients) we’ve talked about ways we can collaborate on our projects. It’s an opportunity to build on each other’s work with our shared objectives to build a more sustainable world.”

The week culminated in an awards ceremony on Tuesday evening in Berkeley, where Hamid delivered his acceptance speech with his brother, Naveed, there in support.

Hamid’s journey to that stage started during his freshman year at Poly High School. While surveying the dozens of clubs available to students, he stopped at the table for the Red Cross Club and immediately decided to sign up. His parents had often donated blood through the American Red Cross, while also contributing to relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina.

“I realized there’s a lot in medicine that’s just interfacing with the community, and I thought it’s exciting work,” Torabzadeh recalled. “That was the initial interest in the Red Cross. I did lots of blood drives, preparedness events, and so with that, I said, ‘Let’s take it a step further.’”

That’s when his idea for the READYteens program came about, which launched in the summer of 2019. The eight-week summer program was designed to help high school students in Los Angeles County become more prepared for potential climate disasters by providing an interactive training program in CPR/first aid, triage, emergency communications and more. The program has been offered at no cost to students ever since, training more than 350 students in LA County and reaching more than 10,000 youth volunteers across the country.

“READYteens is very solutions-oriented, in the sense that we provide training and it’s very education-focused,” Torabzadeh explained. “We’re trying to create leaders that can then go on and train their own communities on topics like search and rescue, first aid, CPR and basic medical training.”

While in med school, his goal is to continue growing READYteens both in depth and breadth. The summer program has been offered at three different sites in LA County—Arcadia, Commerce, and Long Beach—but Torabzadeh hopes to expand to year-long programming. He also plans to create toolkits that will help other Red Cross locations replicate this program and increase disaster preparedness across the country.

During that process, he hopes to work with nonprofits and other climate groups to add more of an environmental focus to the curriculum.

Torabzadeh’s passion for climate activism received its own spark during his time in high school, where he joined the successful Long Beach Green Schools Campaign. After two years of lobbying the school board, the Green Schools Campaign successfully changed LBUSD policy with the passage of the Green School Operations – Energy and Sustainability Policy back in August. He said that experience helped him gain a deeper understanding of environmental issues and also a clearer picture of what successful activism looks like.

“The Green Schools Campaign was a really good experience just learning how to build a team and understanding how activism is critical to making change,” he said. “Green Schools motivated me a lot to build diverse teams that not only encompass students but also adults, youth advisors, teachers; different people involved in the community to get the most perspective.”

After achieving all of that, let’s see what Hamid can do once he turns 18.

Torabzadeh becomes the second Long Beach native to receive a Brower Youth Award, joining 2018 honoree Valeree Catangay. A full list of awardees is available at BrowerYouthAwards.org.

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