digital portrait of a teenage girl with black hair braided over her right shoulder. she wears an orange t-shirt and a pink flower in her hair as she smiles
Illustration by Megan Rizzo

IMAGINING OUR FUTURES is an as-told-to Prism series that started with a simple question: How do young people navigate the emotional and mental toll of climate change? With each conversation, the gravity of the question revealed itself again and again, this time in the form of hopes and dreams for the future, a place that young people have no choice but to imagine into existence. Climate features reporter Ray Levy Uyeda spoke with three young people to hear their perspectives on how they are making sense of the changing world. Follow their stories here.

Outside of school work, Rylee Brooke’s main focus is to inspire other young people to make changes in the community. At 15, she’s already built a youth-led nonprofit organization called The Catalyst’s Club, is an ambassador with One Ocean Diving, an organization working to address ocean-related environmental issues, and is a plaintiff in the youth-led climate lawsuit suing Hawai‘i’s Department of Transportation. 

She’s also a meticulous planner. Rylee’s Pinterest board details every part of her hoped-for future life: from how she wants to decorate her home to the names of her children. But what she can plan for has its limits because it’s contingent on the actions of decision-makers who will determine the future of the planet.

In May 2023, a couple of weeks before the end of her sophomore year of high school, Prism spoke with Rylee Brooke via video call about the land that raised her and her hopes for the future. Here she is, in her own words: 

I was born and raised on the island of O‘ahu. Growing up my parents were Christian missionaries, so volunteering and contributing to the community has always been a core family value. As a child, I competed in pageants. My favorite part was being able to go out and have a larger platform to speak to people and contribute to causes I care about. There were a bunch of organizations that I wanted to work with, but they told me that I was too young to volunteer and that I had to wait until I was 16. I was 8 at the time, and I knew that if I wanted to be involved I would have to build something of my own. 

That’s when I started an organization called The Catalyst’s Club. Our mission is to create and provide opportunities for youth to be catalysts for change and make a positive impact in the world. My passion really just comes from wanting to help people and to help others have the drive to create a better future. The Catalyst’s Club runs eight other organizations, and each organization has its own programs—everything from children’s reading programs to food sustainability to teaching young people how to write and propose their own legislation. My dad got into a car accident when I was younger, and that helped me see the gaps in Christmas and holiday programming and that not every child who wanted a Christmas present was getting one. Now, we host a full-on Christmas experience with shave ice trucks, games, and, of course, presents.

We actually partnered up with more than 40 local organizations to provide them with volunteers, and some of the organizations were even the ones that told me back in the day that I was too young to help out. Throughout the years, kids have started with The Catalyst’s Club programs at ages 2 or 3, and I was able to watch them grow up. They’re amazing little girls and little boys now.

My school was super supportive of everything I did. The administration let me make speeches at the school, and even to this day, they let the school be one of my gift drop-off locations for The Secret Santa Project. 

But at school, they’re really focused on preparing for college. I believe that your purpose is tied to what you’re passionate about: Some kids want to be nurses or entrepreneurs or maybe run nonprofits. What they want to do doesn’t always require a college degree. I don’t plan to go to college; I think it could be fun down the road, but my heart is in my organization. I already know what my future plans are.

For instance, I have plans to partner with the Department of Education to pilot an “organization fair”—kind of like a career fair but with organizations to show young people that it’s not just all work outside of school. Once you graduate from high school, it’s not all work, eat, sleep. You can volunteer in your free time, and it doesn’t have to feel like a chore. I think schools need to make it a lot more clear to their students that there are other things besides work. 

My end goal for my organization is to create something called The HUB. It stands for Humanity Uniting Builders, and it’s for people who build organizations, businesses, communities, and, most importantly, build people up. Personally, I want to travel the world with my family—hopefully a husband and kids. I want four kids. I want to raise my kids in Hawai‘i on the islands because my organization is going to be based here. I also want to take my kids on mission trips so they’re grounded. 

Growing up on O‘ahu, the beach has been a huge part of my life. I practically grew up in the ocean. My dad would take us out on his boat, and my mom would take us diving for shells. We would also catch fish in nets and put them in a 100-gallon saltwater tank in our living room at home. My mom made me and my brother learn about the fish and research them and then make a presentation. After that, we would go and release them back into the ocean. While diving, I could see gorgeous corals and learn so much about fish. It’s breathtaking. The water is always going to be the place that I need to protect no matter what. 

For a while I was going through really bad anxiety, and being underwater helped to slow my breathing and calmed me down. That was really important. Going to the beach has always been a safe space for me and my family; it’s where we go when we go through any kind of difficult circumstances.

For the past few years I’ve been doing shark diving. It’s free diving—without equipment like an oxygen tank—and it literally looks like that part in “Finding Nemo” when he’s out in that blue abyss. You can’t see land, people, or boats. I really enjoy seeing how long I can stay down, taking my time in the water, and holding on to that moment.

As a 15-year-old, I’m realistic about the future. It is scary, not knowing how everything’s gonna be down the road and not having a future that is safe and secure and stable. Even in my lifetime, I’ve seen the decline in fish. I want to preserve the islands and environment for my family and for future generations so that we don’t have to show how things used to be through pictures. I never want to say, “It was gorgeous before.” I don’t want my kids and future generations to worry about Earth. Rising sea levels are so scary. It’s terrifying, thinking about places to travel to that are disappearing. I want to go shark diving at the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve never been out of the U.S. before, but what if by the time I get there, it’s no longer a possibility? Sharks are also becoming more and more endangered. 

I think a lot of my drive comes from how far I plan ahead and how I want to set up my family and the next generation so that my kids won’t have to worry about things that we’re facing now. I don’t want my kids to have to worry about money or the environment, and I want them to know how to give back to their community.

Ray Levy Uyeda is a staff reporter at Prism, focusing on environmental and climate justice. Find Ray on Twitter @raylevyuyeda.