Brushwood Center Honors Journalists Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern

The Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium memorialized the significant civic legacy of Hermon Dunlap and Ellen Thorne Smith, who donated their land and cabin to help form Ryerson Woods. This year’s event honored journalists and activists Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern, who have influenced millions of young people through their writing and activism on behalf of nature, democracy, and the climate. The event, the 37th annual Symposium, was held virtually and has more than 2,000 views on YouTube.

Bill McKibben and Sue Halpern were honored during the Brushwood Center’s Smith Nature Symposium.

“We saw the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded on planet earth this summer—130 degrees in California—that presaged this spate of forest fires. We have to start working together in really deep and powerful ways if we’re to have any hope of surmounting these problems,” McKibben said.

The event raised more than $80,000 to support the Brushwood Center’s COVID-19 response. The center’s mission “leverages the power of the arts and nature for human and ecological wellbeing,” its website says.

Bill Kurtis and Donna La Pietra served as masters of ceremony for the event, facilitating a substantive 30-minute interview with McKibben and Halpern. They were joined by other national leaders in climate action including Robert Redford and Sibylle Szaggars Redford (2018 honorees), Amory Lovins and Judy Hill Lovins (2019 honorees), Congressman Sean Casten, and three young leaders from the Waukegan-based Cool Learning Experience.

12-year-old accepts Youth Leadership Award

The Symposium also honored Brushwood Center’s Environmental Youth Leadership Award Recipient, Elijah Washington. Just 12 years old, Washington presented at the August Smith Nature Symposium roundtable, “Our Future Speaks.” Elijah’s nature name is Northern Shrike and he is passionate about the environment, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, peace and justice. Learn more at

Volunteers help organize backpacks for children. Photo courtesy of the Brushwood Center.

Brushwood helps kids, seniors, veterans

The center pays special attention to children from low-income families who need summer enrichment, access to the outdoors, and social-emotional support as well as veterans struggling with depression and anxiety who need coping resources and senior citizens living in isolation who crave stimulation and interaction.

You can support the Brushwood Center at

Performance of meditations. Photo courtesy of the Brushwood Center.

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