The first time I met Xiuhtezcatl Martinez he was walking on a slack line – balancing his way along a thin strip of webbing strung above the ground between two trees. The 5-meter line was wobbling back and forth and his body was contorting this way and that to stop from falling (as his younger brother Itzcuauhtli and a couple friends did their best to distract him). Somehow he kept putting one foot in front of the other until he spanned the full distance from one tree to the next. Hopping down, he high-fived his adversaries (seemingly grateful for the challenge) and they bolted off together ready for the next adventure.
Over the following days, during the 7-day “Gathering” prior to the UPLIFT 2013, while presenters, and performers came together from around the world to envision solutions to our planets greatest challenges, a group of inspired youth were doing the same. Young poets, activists, artists and musicians gathered to share their passions and dreams, their challenges and visions. They shared their deep frustrations with the complex issues of the world they are inheriting, and they ignited a deep commitment to rising up together and creating a world that works for all future generations.
In a few short days, the group created a powerful mission statement, the framework for an online portal, a leadership structure to harvest the gifts of their founding members, multiple pieces of collaborative artwork (which they promptly auctioned to raise money for their mission) and a kickass song – which they collaboratively wrote, performed and recorded the music video for – all inside of the festival period.
As the adults spent festival days immersed in deep wisdom and the seeds of new ideas for the planet, the youth were in action, planting, growing and harvesting those seeds to share with the world. I was left with a huge amount of hope for the future of our world and a recurring realization, “Dang. These kids are productive!”
We are a tribe of young activists, artists and musicians from across the globe stepping up as leaders and collaborating to defend our planet. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. – Opening words from the Earth Guardians website
Blending the Aztec heritage of his father and the activist spirit of his Mother, Xiuhtezcatl has been on the frontlines of climate activism since he was six years old. He has worked with community leaders and over 50 environmental organizations in Boulder, Colorado to eliminate pesticides from Boulder’s parks, achieve a fee for plastic bags, contain coal ash, and get a moratorium on fracking in the County.
Along with his brother and hip-hop/rap partner Itzcuauhtli, he performs internationally at music festivals, organizes demonstrations, and has spoken at over 100 high-impact rallies, events and conferences around the globe. In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl received the 2013 United States Community Service Award from President Obama, and was the youngest of 24 national change-makers chosen to serve on the President’s youth council.
Like I said, this kid is productive.
I’ve had the gift of connecting with Xiuhtezcatl regularly over the last 18 months and one of the things I love most is that each time we speak, he has two or three more arrows in his quiver, skills he’s building, projects he’s working on for the good of all. And as much as he’s already achieved, I am always left with the feeling that, wow, he’s only just getting started!
When we spoke last month, we had a chance to reflect on some new realizations that are informing Xiuhtezcatl’s direction– not only as a 14-year-old “indigenous change agent, environmental activist, public speaker, eco hip-hop artist, and Youth Director of Earth Guardians”, but also as tight-rope walking kid – balancing the many facets of teenage life as he galvanizes a global army of New Earth “Solutionaries” (his term) to discover their unique role in lighting up the world.
The following are a few excerpts from our conversation, which was one of my favorites to date. Not only because the work of the Earth Guardians continues to evolve, but because with each step and impactful initiative, so does Xiuhtezcatl. It’s incredible to witness all the work they are doing, but to me even more powerful is who they are being and becoming as living examples of what is possible in the world.
“I’ve been fighting against climate change. And now I know that the sickness and the problem is not in the issue. It’s not in the carbon dioxide, it’s not in the big fossil fuel industry. The problem that we are facing today is in human consciousness. The way that we relate to the world. The way that we see the planet. The way that we relate to each other as human beings. That is why our planet is kind of messed up right now. And I believe that I’m on a mission not to change the world, but to do my part in shifting human consciousness. That has been a very important step in my journey as a human being on this planet that I’ve just discovered recently.”>
When you come that place within yourself that you realize in order to change or save the planet you have to shift people’s consciousness, their state of being, what does that propel you to want to do? What do you do next?
“We get caught up in the seriousness and the threat and we get all caught up in our head. This problem started because we were thinking too much with our heads. We’ve got to start thinking with our hearts. We have to act with our hearts. What that looks like is connecting through creativity. What makes you come alive. Look at the world and pick out the things that make you come alive and start there…
…Do what you love to do. Paint a mural. Make a song. Get your music out. Do something positive, innovative and creative with a message… if you’re a skateboarder, do that. If you’re a surfer do that. If you’re an athlete, a musician, engage in what you love.
I don’t even like to be referred to as an activist any more. I’m a normal kid. I’m a teenager that cares about something. Doing what I can, sharing through my talents of public speaking and rapping and hip hop, using that kind of stuff to share with the world.
Activism cannot be a serious thing any more. That form of it is over. We have to start having fun with it. We have to start monkey-wrenching the crap out of the system in every beautiful artistic positive way we can think of.”
In the next six months, what that looks like for Xiuhtezcatl and the rest of the Earth Guardian tribe is a summer of purposeful travel (from scientific studies in the Arctic to the Cop 21 Sustainable Innovation Forum in Paris) and the emergence of a series of seriously ‘monkey-wrenching’ initiatives including a collaborative youth leadership development platform called RYSE (Rising Youth for Sustainable Change) and a target of galvanizing a million people (youth of all ages!) to join their ‘silence into action’ petition and become a Climate Leader before they hit the stage in Paris.
All this and way more is inside the short, but power-packed interview below. ENJOY.