"Lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."
Martin Luther King, Jr., said that many years ago, but we heard it recently from a 12-year-old girl. Teakahla WhiteCloud lives in Ft. Lauderdale, and in her short years, she's become one of the world's great champions in the fight to save critically endangered sea turtles.
She caught the attention of HBO for her tireless works as founding director and secretary of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection, Inc., a junior ranger at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, and for scoring a runner-up award for Oceana's 2012 Ocean Heroes. She and fellow Floridian Daniel Bravo, 10-year-old friend to butterflies, will appear in HBO's two-part documentary Saving My Tomorrow Monday night at 7 p.m., an inspiring series about kids who truly make a difference and why we need to heed their calls for action.
"If we listen to kids we can learn a lot," says series director Amy Schatz. "I don't know what happens when we get older, but maybe it's also too painful to think about some of the choices we make in our lives."
Schatz and HBO have been talking to kids about deep and meaningful subjects for some years now: dreams, poetry, God, and even the meaning of life. But never was her team so overwhelmed by response as it was when they asked about the environment.
"These kids are very powerful, and they know much more than people think kids know about pollution, chemicals, and why we need every species on the planet," she says. "When you see these kids who are incredible activists demonstrating and singing and recycling, it just makes you feel like they're a rallying cry. They've offered us a challenge that hopefully we'll be able to rise to."
Schatz received hundreds of videos from as far as India, Australia, and Bali, each with a poignant message from a child who cares deeply and works first hand to make the world a better place than they found it. What was meant to be one episode turned into the two half-hour shows we'll see Monday night, as well as another four episodes to air on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22.
"The kids were not only thinking of their own lives and their own generation, but they were looking forward to what would be the future world of their children and their grandchildren," Schatz says. "That they would be thinking not about the trees and the nature around them but what they would be leaving behind, that seems very sophisticated to me."
Saving My Tomorrow is a visual collage of stories, images, and informative shorts, mostly lead by the discussions and thoughts of the children themselves. Some of the children wrote and performed songs about their missions, so get ready for some cute factor mixed with the important message. At times, we see the kids exploring guided exhibits with experts from the Natural History Museum in New York, and other times, we hear the touching tale of the polar bear or the Monarch Butterfly as narrated by stars such as Susan Sarandon, Tina Fey, or Neil deGrass Tyson. The star-power helps bring some dramatic weight to the series, but the real driving force is the incredibly-inspiring energy and dedication of youth.
"We really created it as a message from kids, this is kids talking to kids," Schatz says. "It's just a collection of different elements that I think give you a sense of what kids care about, what they're thinking about, and what they're concerned about."
Bravo and WhiteCloud are only two in more than 100 kids who will make the final cut in the full, six-part series, and they should make every Floridian proud.
"I think it's really important that everybody who lives on the coastal and non-coastal areas learns about sea turtles, because they're awesome and they need to be saved," WhiteCloud says. "Without them, the Ocean wouldn't be healthy, because the green Sea Turtles we have here eat the grass beds so the reef gets the fish they need. The Loggerheads eat sponges, and so do the Green Sea Turtles and all of them they eat crustaceans and crabs. All of them keep the reef systems functioning."
More than just making us proud, WhiteCloud hopes to inspire fellow children and adults alike to get involved. You can help her cause by visiting the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection group online where you can find resources to name a hatchling, learn about turtle-friendly lighting, join the mailing list, and read other educational materials. WhiteCloud leads a team of about 30, and they're always looking for more help. It's worth it for a lot of reasons, because as WhiteCloud says, sea turtles are awesome, plus she gets to stay up late.
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"(It's important) not just in Florida, although it's more important in Florida because we have a lot more coastlines than most states, " she says. "They're endangered species, and there's not many of them left here on this planet."
Watch WhiteCloud, Bravo, and others share their stories, tips, and insight Monday night on HBO at 7 p.m., then look out for an additional four episodes to air on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 2015.
Follow Kat Bein on Twitter @KatSaysKill.