Meet the Generation17 Young Leaders: The Story of AY Young
Before turning to music as a teenager, AY Young was a poet, chronicling life in a tough Kansas City, Missouri, neighborhood. When he began putting his words to music, rapping with an effortless flow and an infectious energy, it was clear he was a natural.
Inspired by his parents’ tireless work revitalizing his community, AY wanted to make a difference in the world – a big difference. In his own distinctive way.
He decided to combine his passions: He’d create impact through music. Starting out, AY held free concerts at local parks and on street corners, but he struggled to break through to bigger opportunities. In 2012, he decided to self-fund a tour in hopes of reaching a larger audience with his message of helping others and the planet. “I obsessed over how to power a concert anywhere in an environmentally friendly way,” he recalls. “I discovered that energy is the base resource.”
AY partnered with tech-savvy friends to design a portable solar battery to power his microphone, speakers, and laptop. As he promoted renewable energy at free street shows across the country, fans began donating batteries to show their support. He realized, “Anyone can be an outlet” – that is, doing their part to create a more sustainable world.
And thus, the Battery Tour was born.
AY’s next epiphany came a few years later. While touring the U.S. in 2015, he visited cities without reliable electricity or internet. He learned that, globally, close to a billion people lacked access to energy. Nearly a decade later, 789 million people still live without it, according to research from nonprofit Sustainable Energy for All and the United Nations.
“I realized I could use my concerts to help people get energy,” he says. “That’s where my mission to getting the world plugged in began.”
Technology to Power the Planet
Digital technology enables AY to spread the word about his shows, connect with fans around the globe, and inspire others to become outlets for change with causes they care about. His solar-powered concerts are raising awareness for sustainable electricity as well as funding the development and deployment of his portable solar batteries to areas in need. The renewable energy technology that powers his performances – more than 900 concerts and counting – now also charges local residents’ cellphones and electronics in 17 countries, including Haiti, Honduras, and six African nations. AY has donated 98 solar boxes, which are opening up possibilities by providing communities with access to energy, the internet, and education. In Puerto Rico, the solar boxes are powering medical devices, fans, and lights – restoring the essentials for people – after devastating hurricanes and earthquakes.
“When I see the impact that electricity has in these communities, it makes me speechless,” he says. “It also inspires me to continue to help get life-changing energy access to more people.”
Next, AY is writing and producing an album titled “Project 17,” conceived to support the United Nations’ 17 sustainability priorities – the Global Goals – including ensuring equitable quality education, ending poverty, and providing access to sustainable energy. He’s teaming with 17 artists to raise funds and awareness for the issues they care about. Each song also supports a nonprofit organization like the National Wildlife Federation and the Plastic Pollution Coalition.
AY’s lyrics challenge listeners to “pick a passion” and “plug-in” or take action – a central theme of his music and sustainability efforts. “It’s about small steps,” he says. “It could be as simple as carpooling to your prom, recycling your phone, or using social media to get more outlets to take small actions that preserve our planet.”