Monday, September 21, 2009

An 11-Year-Old Boy is Planting Trees to Save the Future

Felix Finkbeiner with a poster of Wangari Maathai at Washington Square park.
Photo by: Brooke Niemeyer


MANHATTAN - Felix Finkbeinger was working on a routine research project in his fourth-grade class in Paehl, Germany. He was reading about the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Professor Wangari Maathai, who started the Green Belt movement, a tree planting program in Africa, when he got an idea.

"I thought, if she can plant that many trees on her own, we children can do it too," Finkbeiner said. 

And so his group, Plan-for-the-Planet, was born.

Finkbeiner, now 11, travels all around the world as a spokesman for the organization that he started with the help of parents, teachers, and other community leaders in 2007. 

Today he was one of the child advocates at Washington Square Park in Manhattan for the first annual Global Climate Week, promoting activism and awareness to any of the approximately hundred people in attendance who would listen. He was joined by Girl Scout troupes who wore life vests at the rally to represent the concerns of rising oceans. 

The words "Stop Talking, Start Planting" adorned Finkbeiner's t-shirt and he stood next to a large poster of Maathai. 

"Each tree [planted] is a symbol for climate justice," Finkbeiner said. "We need to stop talking and start planting. 

Plant-for-the-Planet is now the branch of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) that is exclusively for young children. It encourages children to help in planting trees to improve the environment and to prepare for the future. The Plant-for-the-Planet program unites children from all parts of the world to achieve a common goal. 

"We need to think as a global community, not as many different places," said Finkbeiner.

The current goal of UNEP is to plant seven billion new trees in the world by the end of 2009, To help do their part, the goal for the Plant-for-the-Planet volunteers is to plant over 200,000,000 trees. Hundreds of children, in over 50 different nations, are working together to plant one million trees in each of their countries. 

"We children are working to save our futures," Finkbeiner said. "Adults talk too much. It's time for us children to do."

Also at today's event was model Gisele Bundchen, who was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNEP. She is expecting her first child in December and put emphasis on the importance of a clean environment for upcoming generations. 

"It's important on a global scale to secure a healthy future for the next generation, wherever they are in the world," said Bundchen.

Governmental leaders are also focused on these environmental issues. Representatives from almost 200 countries will gather for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7 to discuss a climate agreement. 

"We need our leaders to act now," said Finkbeiner. "If they only want to get re-elected, they are not good [leaders]."

"Seal the Deal" is the slogan for campaigns leading up to the conference in Denmark. Petitions encouraging leaders to create an agreement about mandating the levels of greenhouse gas emissions in their country were available for people to sign today. Supporters want leaders to come to an agreement that will protect the planet and everyone on it successfully and then "seal the deal."

What all began as a class project for a young boy has now turned into an international campaign for children. Over 365,000 trees have been planted by children in Germany alone since Finkbeiner began his campaign and he continues to gain support every day from around the world.

"If we children can each plant trees," said Finkbeiner, "we can change the world." 

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Broadway's Finest Come Together for Back2Broadway Event

The ladies of "Jersey Boys" on stage at Broadway on Broadway.
Photo by: Brooke Niemeyer

MANHATTAN-- Theater students dream of it. Tourists flock to it. Culture junkies obsess over it. Nothing in the world compares to it.


Yesterday was a day for musical enthusiasts to catch a glimpse of Broadway's finest, free of charge. New York City Mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, The Broadway League, Times Square Alliance, and NYC & Company kicked off the 2009 - 2010 Broadway season with their annual free public outdoor concert in Times Square, entitled Broadway on Broadway. The popularity of the shows on Broadway has continued to rise year after year.

"Broadway has had more hits than Derek Jeter," Mayor Bloomberg told the crowd.

September is Back2Broadway month, which showcases the new season with free events, like Broadway on Broadway, and also Broadway Open Call Karaoke and Kids Night on Broadway. The promotions also include offers for deals on ticket and dining prices throughout the month, along with many other activities.

Spectators filled Broadway from 43rd to 47th Streets to see the concert. According to The Broadway League, Broadway had one of its best years ever last year, with record ticket sales and the highest number of new show openings in more than 25 years.

"This season looks to be another success," Bloomberg said.

The show began at 11:30 a.m. and ran for about two hours. Michael McKean, who is starring in the upcoming Broadway play "Superior Donuts," hosted the event. John Stamos, who is starring in "Bye Bye Birdie" also spoke to the crowd.

"It was my third time coming to this," said Susan Marks, 54, of Chicago. "Every year it gets better."

Attendees were entertained by performances from over 20 musics, ranging from long-running shows like "The Phantom of the Opera" to the new shows of the season, including "Next to Never," "Fela!" and "Memphis."

One of the main goals of the event was to give a glimpse of the new shows expected to begin by the end of the year.

"I come back and see this so I know which plays look good to go see," said Marks. "I've already made my list."

Another goal of Back2Broadway month is to promote entertainment venues in downtown Manhattan and diversify New York City's economy.

"There are so many restaurants, clubs, and shows that benefit from this [event]," said Jim Glaub, 30, of Chelsea.

After the confetti had fallen and the last musical number was finished, Glaub concluded that Broadway on Broadway 2009 was a success.

"People seem excited about Broadway," he said. "That's what it's all about."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mourners Gather for Eighth Anniversary of 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

Officers carry flags to honor firefighters lost on 9/11.
Photo by: Brooke Niemeyer


MANHATTAN -- Eight years later, mourners still flock to the site where the twin towers once stood. Most come to remember the lives lost, but some come holding banners announcing conspiracy theories about what happened that day.

"Justice for the victims of 9/11," one man repeatedly shouted, while holding a sign with the same phrase.

Mourners passed by these protestors, who were watched carefully by officers and held back by barricades.

Family members placed flowers in the memorial reflecting pool at Zucotti Park as relatives and volunteers read names of the more than 2,700 people who lost their lives on 9/11. Those who weren't directly connected to someone lost in the towers still came to the site, some placing flowers or other mementos on the steps of St. Paul's Chapel.

"I come from England every two years, but this year I planned my trip around September 11," Brett Hartland, 26, of Birmingham, England said. "I brought these white roses to show my respect to the innocent victims of terrorism."

Kathy Robert, 49, of Dallas, Texas, was living in New York City when the attacks happened and can vividly recall how she felt that morning.

"I was driving into town and was listening to the reports on the radio," Robert said. "I knew I wouldn't get into the city with all the kayos. I knew this event would change everything."

Hartland said he experienced the ramifications of the attacks, even from across the Atlantic Ocean.

"The terrorist attacks didn't just affect Americans. It affected the world. That day changed all of our lives forever."

Strangers embraced and shared stories about their memories of the morning of 9/11. Many had their hands clasped together in prayer and even those headed to their Wall Street offices slowed down as they walked by, despite the somber weather.

"It doesn't matter how much time goes by, this event will always bring people together," Robert said. "Eight years later, the pain is still there. It will still be felt eighty years from now."

A woman, whose son was in the North Tower, said nothing keeps her from coming to the memorial service every year.

"This is a resting place for my son. We never found him, but I can feel him here."

This mother, who wouldn't identify herself, held tightly to the framed photo of her son.

"Today is a day about those who lost their lives in an honorable way and are no longer here with us," she said. "They gave us so much and we are here to respect and remember them, not make a name for ourselves."

Despite the negativity coming from the protesters just down the block from where she stood, she said she has no bitterness about what happened to her son.

"My son died happy," she said. "He wasn't doing something bad, like selling drugs or getting shot by a gang. He was working in a job he loved. He was lucky."