Some people say I have a gambling problem. No, its not that I go and lose hundreds of dollars in casinos, but rather I take too many lofty risks based mostly on hope. An example of this is when I dropped out of school in 2007 to go and work for then Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign. As an African-American male, leaving behind a full scholarship at one of America’s most prestigious private universities wasn’t received well by anyone. In fact, there was even some campaign staff that didn’t think it was a good idea. But I took a risk because for the first time ever, I felt I could make a difference because a politician believed in my generation and me.

Fast-forward four years later, and many young people and black people have started to wonder if President Obama will keep true to candidate Obama promises and rhetoric. Admittedly, I was one of those critics, but after yesterday’s State Department decision to reassess the Keystone XL pipeline; I feel the tide shifting dramatically. When I started at the Sierra Club in May, I was told about this lofty goal to organize young people to try and stop this pipeline and I thought that will be extremely difficult before the end of year. Nonetheless, in August, the Sierra Student Coalition gathered its top 50 youth leaders in St. Louis, MO to talk about our work for the upcoming semester, and there our “Stop Keystone” youth campaign was launched.

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Last week, thirty-five of the best and brightest young leaders descended upon the nation’s capitol to deliver the grassroots demands and action that we’ve been organizing for months. From leading campaigns to move campuses beyond coal, to mobilizing against the Keystone XL pipeline, and hosting training and strategy sessions at our regional Power Shift conferences, these young people are leading in the grassroots, but last week they came to DC to be heard. And heard they were.

The first stop was a meeting with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to thank her for her leadership, and show our support for her continuing to lead on critical matters of the mercury ruling and the Keystone XL pipeline. In a packed room on Howard University’s campus, we had a frank discussion on the state of public health, and the challenges we face in protecting it. Tayla Tavor from Michigan shared how she was diagnosed with asthma when she was 3-years old, and now finds herself at Michigan State University fighting to retire the largest on-campus coal plant in the country, which continues to threaten her and her peers’ health.

Administrator Jackson shared our concerns about the impacts of dirty energy. "It's so important that your voices are heard, that campuses that are supposed to be teaching people aren't meanwhile polluting the surrounding community with mercury and costing the children a few IQ points because of the need to generate power. It's simply not fair," Jackson said. And she didn’t mince words about some of the challenges she faces in protecting the American people from big polluters. She slammed the GOP for putting the interests of the coal industry ahead of those of the American people.

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Yesterday, a few of us gathered together wearing "beyond coal" and Powershift t-shirts. Carrying cardboard signs saying things like "No More Coal!" and "100% clean energy" and wearing surgical masks, we marched around campus singing a song that fellow student, Zach Mason, had written advocating for students to write on our school's Facebook wall saying "No More Coal!". At the same time, we handed out flyers giving some detailed facts about coal. The best moment came when we were inside our cafeteria. Halfway through the song, everyone started clapping and cheering. It was awesome.

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Last Thursday, as part of 100 Actions for 100% Clean Energy, seven Michigan State University students held a sit-in at their president's office demanding MSU shut down its coal plant and transition to 100% clean energy.

Unfortunately, Michigan State's President Lou Anna K. Simon delivered a weak response to the students' demands. Even though she was in the building, President Simon refused to meet with the students. Instead, she sent them a letter that contained several inaccuracies and stated that she would not commit to 100% clean energy.

Students continued to wait for President Simon to meet with them. When the building closed at 5pm, three students were arrested.

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Thirty five top youth leaders will meet with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and White House Liaison to Young Americans Ronnie Cho today to thank Administrator Jackson for her leadership and discuss their concerns about a range of environmental issues, including the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The delegation includes student representatives from universities across the country, as well as Energy Action Coalition, Greenpeace and Sierra Club representatives, will start the day with a roundtable meeting with Administrator Jackson at 10 a.m. at Howard University. Youth leaders will then make a visit to Capitol Hill before meeting with Cho, from the White House Office of Public Engagement

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