Meet the 15-year-old hero who just gave the U.N. some real talk about the future of his generation.

He woke up everyone in the room.

A 15-year-old kid from Colorado just walked into the United Nations and dared a group of world leaders to do something about climate change.

His name is Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, and he's a true teen badass with a badass Aztec name to match. But, to truly appreciate how epically out of left field his speech was, allow me to set the scene...

The United Nations is a majestic place. At least on the outside.



Photo by WorldIslandInfo.com/Flickr.

On the inside, it looks a little like my grandmother's apartment.

She definitely has those chairs. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

It is filled with Very Serious and Powerful People who spent the morning addressing each other as Your Excellency...

Figures. Those two always sit together. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

...watching a Very Serious Video narrated by Morgan Freeman that featured sad polar bears ('cause we're all a sucker for Morgan Freeman and sad polar bears, even us)...

"Are you a fish?" — a polar bear. Photo by Eric March/Upworthy.

...and spent much of the morning on June 29, 2015, speaking to one another about how climate change is a Very Serious Problem.

They also talked about how world leaders have really got to get around to really, really solving it this time with the climate agreement they're going to make in Paris this year.

And that's good! It's awesome that the UN is pushing world leaders to talk about climate change. And it's good to have goals. Yay, goals.

When Martinez got up, he immediately threw some fuel on the fire.

"In the last 20 years of negotiations, almost no agreements have been made on a bonding climate recovery plan," he said.

Image by the United Nations.

Whoa.

Frustration with the slow place is common and something folks at the U.N. also feel, as even Ban Ki-moon compared the speed of the negotiations to “a snail's pace."

It's not surprising. This fight against climate change is a huge undertaking by a huge group of people. But, Martinez wanted to remind the assembly that urgency is key because the stakes are too high.

Martinez believes that climate change isn't just a moral issue, it's a life-or-death issue.

“What's at stake right now is the existence of my generation," he said in his speech.

He's 100% right. It's great that politicians are thinking about climate change and are getting together to talk about when they're going to talk about what they're going to do about it. But the decisions they're making won't affect them as much as the generations after them.

Kthxbye, hope you like the planet we left you! Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/PR.

Martinez is 15. He and his friends are actually going to have to deal with the consequences of whatever gets decided here.

"We need to reconnect with the earth and end this mindset that we have that we can take whatever we want without ever giving back," he said.

As an accomplished writer, hip-hop artist, climate warrior, and all-around way-too-impressive 15-year-old, Martinez gets invited to speak at a lot of events like this.

This is the third time he's spoken at the U.N. alone. And he knows the drill.

Photo by Patricia Carnevale/Upworthy.

I spoke to Martinez after his speech, and he was characteristically to the point:

"At climate talks, the fossil fuel companies are lobbying in the hallways," he told me. "There are a lot of systems in place that are making it so that we're kind of stuck. ... It's the truth of the message, the voice, the passion I bring against money."

And the politicians who spoke before him at the conference?

"They were all talking about the same thing in a way," he said. "A lot was addressed about needing to take action and wanting to do something, and that's great. But the people are listening are the people in the room, and the world's not listening to them. ... They're not finding ways to relate to this generation."

It may sound like Martinez is a pessimist, but he's not. Not even close.

He just speaks bluntly and from the heart. Because he cares so deeply. And his passion is infectious.

GIF by the United Nations.

"It's reassuring there's a conversation going on," he said. "We have to speed up the conversation. ... Unless we make the right decisions, we're going to wind up with a pretty messed-up planet."

In order to help people make those decisions, Martinez and his organization, Earth Guardians, came up with a list of 50 simple things you can do to start reducing your carbon footprint.

You can try some of them right now! They're really simple.

Every little bit helps the massive global effort Martinez hopes to kick-start with his speech.

And when the nations of the world meet in Paris later this year to draft a new climate agreement, he hopes that this time they'll actually take some serious, no-doubt-about-it action. The U.N. hopes so, too; they gave him a round of applause.

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Unilever and the United Nations

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Brian Olesen never imagined he would end up homeless.

The former U.S. Air Force medic had led a full and active life, complete with a long career in the medical field, a 20-year marriage, and a love of anything aquatic. But after hip surgery and chronic back pain left him disabled in 2013, he lost his ability to work. Due to changes in eligibility requirements, he couldn't qualify for federal veteran housing programs. His back issues were difficult to prove medically, so he didn't qualify for disability. Though he'd worked his whole life, having no income for five years took its toll. He got evicted from a couple of apartments and found himself living on the streets.

But in 2018, two things completely turned Olesen's life around. He was able to both qualify for disability and to move into an affordable housing community in Miami's Goulds neighborhood called Karis Village.

When people think of affordable housing, they don't usually picture a place like Karis Village. The 88-unit development is brand new, and built with an attention to design that is not always expected for developments that serve as home to people on limited incomes. The apartments have tile floors, marble countertops, and all new appliances and furniture, and the grounds are beautiful and well-kept, with a playground and common areas for residents to gather.

Brian Olesen in his kitchen at Karis VillageCapital One

Karis Village isn't just a housing development; it's a home and a community. Half of the units are set aside for veterans who have experienced homelessness, like Olesen. The other half are largely occupied by single-parent families.

"To me, this building was just a gift," says Olesen. "All of the different parties that got together to put this building together… making half the building available to veterans. We've got no place to go."

Addressing veteran homelessness was one of the goals of Karis Village, which was built through a partnership that included Carrfour Supportive Housing — a mission-driven, not-for-profit affordable housing organization in southern Florida — and Capital One's Community Finance team. More than just an affordable place to live, the community has full-time staff on hand to help coordinate services—from addiction recovery programs to transportation options to job search and placement. Also included are peer counselors who provide emotional and psychological support for residents.

Karis Village, an affordable housing community in Miami, Florida.Capital One

Carrfour President and CEO Stephanie Berman says the core function of the services team on site is to build a supportive community.

"Often when you think of folks leaving homelessness and coming into housing, you think of shelters or some kind of traditional housing," she says. "You don't really think about a community, and that's really what we build and what we operate. What we're really striving to create is community. We find that our families thrive when you create a sense of community."

The intention to create a supportive community at Karis Village was a priority from the get go. Fabian Ramirez, a Capital Officer on Capital One's Community Finance team, says the bank did a listening tour in southern Florida to explore community development and affordable housing options in the area and to hear what was most needed. After deciding to partner with Carrfour, the bank provided not only an $8 million construction loan and a $25 million low income housing tax credit (LIHTC) investment to help build Karis Village, but it also kicked in a $250,000 social purpose grant to help fund the social support services that would be put in place for residents.

"It's not just all about providing the brick and mortar," says Ramirez. "It's about being able to contribute to the sustainability of the development and of the lives of the people who move into the building."


Capital One

Olesen says he and his fellow residents benefit greatly from the network of support services offered in the building. He says a counselor comes to meet with him once a month, sometimes right in his apartment. He also gets help maintaining a connection with the Veteran Affairs office. Other services include social workers and counselors for drug addiction and alcoholism.

Olesen loves being around other veterans, and he says hearing the sound of children playing keeps the community lively. He says anywhere else he could afford to live on disability wouldn't be nearly as nice and would likely involve shared kitchens and bathrooms and neighborhoods you wouldn't want to go out in at night.

If it weren't for Karis Village, Olesen says he doesn't know where he would be today: "I had nowhere to go and this is a safe, beautiful place to spend my retirement."

"I don't think they could have done a much better job of putting this place together and supplying us with what we need," he says. "I have so much appreciation for the ability to have a place to live. And then you add to that that it's beautiful and completely furnished and you didn't need to bring anything—I don't know what more you could ask for."

Karis Village and another development for veterans built the same year enabled the neighborhood of Goulds to meet the requirements set forth by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to declare an end to veteran homelessness in the area.

Ending veteran homelessness altogether is a complex task, but communities like Karis Village show how it can be done—and done well. When government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporate funding programs come together to solve big problems, big solutions can be built and maintained.

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