Life has not been easy for Generation Z, the title given to the young people born between 1996 and 2015. They’ve seen fire and rain, for sure, but they’ve also known war, social unrest and the increasingly obvious threat that climate change is about to unleash on them.
Still, according to studies carried out by groups such as the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is already coming out strong. They are described as pragmatic yet creative; obsessed with social media but also socially active. They are educated, they are progressive and they are fearless—as highlighted by these three Gen Z members in the North Bay.
Fourteen-year-old Minna Stess doesn’t remember a time when she was not skateboarding. The Petaluma native took after her older brother Finley, and she hopped on a board before she was in preschool. When she began winning skateboarding competitions in Kindergarten, things got interesting.
“It’s my entire life,” Stess says of skateboarding. “I’ve always been skating and it’s just so fun. I love meeting new people, exploring new things and learning new things.”
“It’s become such a big part of our family,” her father, Andrew Stess, says. “If we wanted to be together as a family we had to go to the skatepark. Minna, even when she was little dragging a board around, she would just smile on the board. That was always a big thing, seeing her smile. And it’s still a big thing.”
Stess’s passion for skating is matched by her prodigious talent, which is turning heads across the skating world. Her list of competitive accomplishments includes becoming the first female to compete in all three finals (street, mini ramp and bowl) during the King of Groms Championship hosted by Quicksilver and taking first place at the Northern California Amateur Skateboard League street series at age eight; and taking first place during the Mystic Skate Cup Ladies Bowl in Prague in 2018.
“I’m kind of used to it now,” Stess says of competing on big stages. “I still feel like I have to do my best and prove myself, even though I’ve proved myself over the years. I still feel like I need to do something to make myself feel accomplished in skating.”
Most recently, Stess made her X Games debut in 2019, and she took third place in the 2019 USA Skateboarding National Championships Women’s Park Finals. Now a bonafide, and sponsored, star in the world of skateboarding, Stress is also a member of USA Skateboarding. Next on her list of goals is the Olympics, and she was in the running to represent Team USA in skateboarding’s Olympic debut in Tokyo this summer, before Covid-19 canceled the games.
“I’m an Olympic hopeful,” Stess says. “But right now everything’s backed up (due to the pandemic). They only take top three in your gender and discipline. I’m in fourth right now, so I need to make it to third, but I can’t do that when there’s no contest going on.”
While forced to wait for the return of public competitions, Stess is busy starting her freshman year of high school remotely as she attends a special school in the Petaluma school district that caters to young people with unusual obligations. She also stays busy in the family’s custom-made backyard skate park, where she and her brother practice daily.
“Right now, I’m practicing on going faster,” Stess says. “I actually rolled my ankle a few weeks ago, so I’m just trying to come back from that.”
Injuries come with the territory in skateboarding, especially on the ramps and bowls that Stess maneuvers over while she grinds rails and gets air; and she suffered her biggest injury when she broke and dislocated her elbow in January of 2019. Stess required two surgeries during her rehabilitation.
“I was super impressed with how she went from two surgeries on that elbow, to coming back and doing all those Olympic qualifiers by the end of that season,” her mother, Moniz Franco, says.
“As a parent, you’re always thankful when you leave the skate park and nobody’s hurt,” Andrew says. “But she just came back so strong from that (injury). She won’t brag about it herself, but to see her go through the injury, find herself and come back even stronger; Moniz and I were proud to watch that.”
Since achieving success even after a major injury, Stess is now more focused than ever on the Olympics and skating as a career. “Just don’t let any injuries stop you from pursuing what you do,” she says. “They set you back a little bit, but you have to keep going.”
“This is just what we do,” Moniz says. “It sounds insane to other people and all that, but skateboarding has a long history and now it’s becoming more open to the rest of the world, and the opportunities that allow those athletes is really important. I’m happy we have the chance to be a part of it.”
“Moniz and I are more proud of her and Finley as people, as kids, than we are of anything athletic they do,” Andrew says. “But for them to achieve these dreams and be humble and cool; it’s fun to watch.”
Fifteen-year-old Sarah Goody is on strike. Specifically, the Corte Madera youth strikes every Friday throughout the Bay Area to bring awareness to climate change and to inspire other young people to take up the cause of confronting and overcoming the challenge that climate change is already presenting.
More than just a weekly outing, Goody has turned her activism into an internationally-recognized movement as the founder of Climate Now, a youth-led, Marin-based nonprofit that has educated over 500 local students about the urgency of the climate crisis. Climate Now also provides high school environment groups with resources and connections and helps local student organizations fight for composting and recycling programs on their campuses.
Goody’s introduction to climate change came about in a sixth-grade science class.
“It was the first time I felt connected to a social-justice issue and could see its direct effects on my life,” Goody says.
From there, she began joining youth-led organizations such as Greening Forward, which took her to a conference in New York City last year. That is where Goody met fellow youth activist Alexandria Villaseñor, who at the time was on her 18th week of striking outside the United Nations as part of the Fridays for Future movement, in which students participate in demonstrations to demand action from political leaders and the fossil-fuel industry to prevent climate change and promote transition to renewable energy.
“I went out and joined her and was so inspired by the message she was able to convey,” Goody says. “I decided to bring that back to the Bay Area; and began striking outside San Francisco City Hall and the San Francisco Ferry Building.”
Those early strikes in the city, with Goody standing with a sign reading “School Strike 4 Climate,” attracted a lot of curiosity.
“It was definitely intimidating at first,” she says. “I remember the first day I striked was outside of San Francisco City Hall, I had no idea what I was doing. My dad drove me in because he worked about two blocks away. I sat along the steps, I had police officers come over to me many times asking me what I was doing, it took me a few weeks and months to feel comfortable and grounded in what I was doing.”
Currently Goody is more than 60 weeks into her Friday strikes, and she now regularly strikes in places like Mill Valley to make her cause more accessible to other local youth. In doing so, Goody recognized a need for more youth-led climate initiatives in Marin.
“I saw that there was a way to bring the climate movement to young people across Marin County, and I could do that through Climate Now,” she says.
Goody also recently started an organization called Broadway Speaks Up, where performers from more than 50 Broadway productions share messages about climate action with young people, and Goody regularly speaks at public events and contributes articles to publications including Teen Vogue and Forbes on the topic of climate activism.
Goody’s work with Climate Now began with monthly meetings for young people in Larkspur and grew into a school-based system that regularly visited classrooms to talk about climate change and explain how students can take action. The organization also works with a coalition of environmental clubs from around Marin County to create a community of climate activists. During Covid-19, Climate Now has transitioned to online alternatives to in-person action, such as virtual classroom presentations.
“As young people, we’re not taught how to fundraise, do outreach, how to learn more about issues we are passionate about,” Goody says. “We are told that we can’t really make a difference because we don’t have the power to vote or have jobs. What I try to show young people through my work is that we can create that change and it’s up to us to stand up for our climate and take action before it’s too late; before we see the existential threats that climate change is posing. We are already seeing them now with the Northern California wildfires.”
Climate Now is being recognized locally and globally. In January, Goody was awarded the Marin Youth Volunteer of the Year Award. More recently this year, she was recognized with The Diana Award, established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, for her “social action and humanitarian efforts,” and she was honored by Action for Nature (AFN) as a 2020 International Young Eco-Hero.
“As an activist, sometimes you get into this robotic process of doing things, all people can get that way,” Goody says. “So getting this recognition has been a way to reinstate what I’m doing and to reground myself in this work and the values I believe in.”
Twenty-two-year-old Stav Mcallister belies his youth with his exceptional musicianship and insightful songwriting. The Sebastopol-based artist, who performs under the singular pseudonym Stav, has been on stage for half of his life and has been writing music since high school.
“Music has always been that thing I haven’t been able to not do,” Stav says. “There was always music playing at home or in the car. I always had music and always had that vision that my best friends could all play instruments and we’d all have a band one day.”
This year, even as Covid-19 shut down live music, Stav has remained busy. He just started his first year (remotely) at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where he is adding skills like music theory to his musical repertoire.
“I’d like to get more tools under my belt,” he says. “I’d like to understand music as deeply as I can, and I want to be able to do things like produce my own stuff. It’s like learning a new language and getting better at a new language so you can better communicate and collaborate with other artists.”
This month, Stav is also busy musically with a live-streaming performance on Saturday, Oct. 10, at 3pm through stavmcallister.com. For that online show, Stav will perform songs off his forthcoming EP, Borders, which is being released via North Bay–based label Love Conquered Records on Oct. 23.
On “Borders,” Stav presents his own freewheeling blend of folk-pop melodies, delivered with a sonorous voice. Throughout the record, his lyrical empathy shines through; Stav writes storyteller songs about topics like friendship, social division and addiction.
“I’ve always been an empathetic person,” he says. “I have a hard timeZ—when someone else is feeling something, I have to feel it too, sometimes to a fault. And, yeah I’ve had some stuff happen in my life that is ahead of the game maybe for a typical 22-year-old, but I also have a lot of work to do on myself, too. I hope that never stops.”
One of the things that Stav has struggled with in the last six months is the role of the artist in the face of global events like a pandemic. “Every time I promote my music, I feel like I’m taking up too much space,” he says. “I am passionate about human rights and equality, and I want to highlight other people’s voices, people who are not as heard in society. That’s a hard line to walk, but I realize that I still do have to pursue my passion. I feel like if I don’t do this, if I don’t do music, then my ripple effect in the world just becomes more negative than positive. So, if anything, me doing this is making me feel that I’ve made some good in the world.”