While analyzing the script of The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, my favorite English teacher said, “I’m looking forward to the day a race of aliens invades our planet, because then humanity can stop squabbling amongst themselves and finally unify against one common enemy.” I never forgot those words and I find it fascinating that years later I’m relating her words to those of President John F. Kennedy, who paid the price of a life cut tragically short because of his words and ideas. As a Barnstable High School senior going out into the world, the quote from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address as well as Mrs. Burch’s words of wisdom inspire hope, that even the most complex and daunting problems facing humanity can be solved if we work toward solutions together.
Recently, I had the pleasure of organizing and assisting the MA PFAS and Your Health Study with youth and community outreach. PFAS is a series of chemicals that are dangerous to human health in high levels, particularly when consumed in drinking water. Until 2016, Hyannis’ public drinking water had the highest concentration of PFAS in the state, an issue that though resolved, continues to be surrounded by division and anger. I began to realize that instead of finger pointing, what we as a community need most is education to better understand the potential effects of this chemical exposure on our health and how we can best work together toward a PFAS free environment. So, I raised the issue as part of my work with the Barnstable Youth Commission to see what difference we as youth leaders could make. As a result, the Youth Commission joined forces with the Barnstable and Sturgis High School Environmental Clubs to organize an event called PFAS and Your Community which brought together more than 75 community members who wanted to know more. Speakers included our state senator and representative, a public works official, scientists, town counselors and advocacy groups. Both republicans and democrats and a variety of viewpoints were in attendance. While at times discussion was contentious, we were able to leave the finger pointing behind, answer questions respectfully, get accurate information and share gratitude for all the success and efforts we have achieved and continue to achieve together to improve the health of our community.
I was really proud to be part of creating this important event. Having grown up in a time where division often seems to be the only focus of public discussion, the success of our event left me feeling hopeful for what is possible for future generations. This is but one opportunity I have had to work on difficult issues during my time on the Youth Commission. There are so many critical problems we face as humans, and just as Mrs. Burch and JFK said, it is now my mission in life and leadership to leave division behind, listen openly and bring people together to find unified solutions. All of our futures depend on it.