Crystal Kaczmarczyk: Activist for People and the Earth

Crystal Kaczmarczyk is a senior at Duluth East High School. She is also a passionate, thoughtful Peace Church Climate Justice team member. When asked what social concerns or issues mattered most to her, she wisely responded that it’s hard to decide—they are all so intermingled. Crystal’s top concerns are the environment and environmental justice, as well as mass incarceration and the death penalty in the USA. Crystal is also committed to gun control, equality for all people, LGBTQ rights, and equality for all races, and religions. Her passion for fighting against racism has been reignited by the recent protests.

If she could change anything in the world, Crystal would like to have an Earth for everyone to live on that is safe and equitable for everybody. This ideal world would depend upon changes in peoples’ mindsets. “Racism is a concept that is not based on anything legitimate. Changing the world means eliminating problems that shouldn’t be problems! Changing minds is most important.”

Crystal has been very active with the Amnesty International club at East High School and has been instrumental in making it the vibrant club it is today. Amnesty International believes that environmental justice is a human right—having clean drinking water and clean air. This past year the club did a lot about clean water and anti-Polymet copper-nickel mining. Like everything else, the club has been on a pandemic break, but they have managed to stay in contact. Recently, in light of George Floyd’s murder, they have had letter writing meetings/parties, sending letters to politicians.

Crystal has spent a lot of time reading and educating herself. “Books have been a very good tool for me. The authors of books I read are sources of action and courage in my life,” she states. One book that Crystal recommends is a book on climate justice—Generation Green by Linda and Tosh Sivertsen. This is a manual for activism and living an eco-friendly life as a teenager. And the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson was a pivotal influence on Crystal’s thinking about criminal justice reform.

Crystal grew up in Peace Church—a progressive, supportive place of social justice. She appreciates the support and the really good mentors at Peace. “Peace Church in general is a source of courage and action in my life, especially Nathan and Kathy—they are important and encouraging.” Her mom also has been a great influence, teaching her about right and wrong. “Growing up in that context really helped,” she says. Her family and friends, and peers in Amnesty International have been helpful too. Crystal also names two teachers who have been very influential in her life: Mrs. Nachbar, who teaches world history and Dr. Updegrove, the Amnesty International club advisor. “For History Day, Mrs. Nachbar suggested I do a project on the South Africa truth and reconciliation commission. I learned so much. Dr. Updegrove helped me find job-shadow at a legal aid firm. I am not sure if I would go into legal aid, but it really helps people, which is what I want to do with my career.”

“I am still trying to figure out what I believe. Justice is so important. Peace Church promotes that. All the teams—climate justice, dismantling racism. Being a sanctuary church. I am glad I grew up in a church that could teach me all these things. It’s not super-common that a church is so progressive and I love that about Peace. It’s interesting to hear what friends’ churches are like—very different! I would have a hard time being in a church that is preaching differently than what they do. I can stand behind Peace Church.”

Crystal downplays her activism. She says, “I’m not super-impressive—there are so many young people even younger than me who are doing so much. It’s not new for teens and young people to be acting and working for justice. I am really glad to be around people my age that care and make changes happen.”

As she thinks about her future, Crystal is clear about one thing: “I want to have a career where I can help people or the environment. Hopefully both!”

~ Interviewed by Lisa Fitzpatrick