Green the Block and President Obama Are One Year Older: But Do We Celebrate?
by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, (CEO, Green For All) and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., (President, Hip Hop Caucus)
Cross-posted from Huffington Post
A year ago today, Green The Block was born in a ceremony held in the West Wing of the White House while President Barack Obama celebrated his own 48th birthday. It was a tremendous honor to stand on such a grand stage as we launched our new effort to ensure that communities of color have a leading role in shaping America's emerging green economy - an honor we have spent the last year doing our best to live up to.
For twelve months, Green The Block has been working tirelessly to ensure that American green industry fulfills its potential to revitalize our struggling communities, so ravaged by decades of economic and environmental degradation, while effectively curbing climate change. We began by doing what we do best-organizing within our communities. On September 11, 2009, President Obama called on Americans to engage in a National Day of Service. Green The Block responded by sponsoring and supporting more than 100 service events around the country. This powerful demonstration showed how widespread support for green jobs and green investment is in communities of color.
We were proud of our work on the National Day of Service, but we were not content. For us, that was only the beginning, kicking off monthly Green The Block "calls to action" that gave everyday people a variety of opportunities to help build a green economy in their own communities.
We began in March by honoring Women's History Month with a focus on "Women In The Green Economy." We shared the stories of women like BPI Certified Energy Auditor Dawn Moody, a longtime Philadelphia resident and green-collar worker, and Evelin Palacios of the Women's Action to Gain Economic Security (WAGES), who co-founded her own eco-housecleaning co-op after being exposed to toxic cleaning products her whole life.
In April, Green The Block partnered with Reverb's Campus Consciousness Tour, featuring Hip Hop artist Drake. This partnership allowed us to reach out to thousands of young people who are ready to make a difference in their communities. Drake is changing the music game with his sound and energy, and changing campuses and communities with his decision to go green with Green The Block. As our call to action, we invited people to celebrate "Earth Day on Every Block." In partnership with Drake, we mobilized more than 3,500 students, activists, and community members in more than 20 states to make a personal commitment to lower their carbon footprint and to spread the word. This was a huge step in communities where Earth Day has often passed unnoted.
In May, Green the Block congratulated high school, junior college and college grads, highlighting first generation graduates and their families. Knowing these young people were starting their adult lives, we gave them information about, resources for, and opportunities to make that beginning as green as possible. From getting rid of their old furniture to finding their new careers, Green the Block helped make 2010 a green graduation.
June was the real beginning of summer, so Green The Block launched a "Stay Cool Campaign." We highlighted hundreds of organizations nationwide doing work to help families weatherize their homes for little to no cost. Weatherization is a cheap, easy, and effective way to combat both the temperature and save money at the same time - and it creates green jobs in local communities.
In July, our "Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities" campaign focused on how going green could improve health and wellness in communities of color. Green The Block provided information about what healthy food choices can look like, how farmers markets can provide cheap, healthy, and locally produced food, and encouraging our members to spread the word with food-themed movie nights or book clubs.
Now, in August, we find ourselves celebrating our first birthday, right along with the president. As we reflect on a year of hard and rewarding work, we are reminded that every day is a birthday for our country - that is it is constantly being born and reborn from the dreams and desires, the fears and frailties, of its latest heirs. We are filled with hope about the country we can build together, but we are also wary of what could happen to our country if we don't build the future together.
It is difficult to imagine a greener country, when in just a few short weeks we are faced with the 5th anniversary of the most significant environmental and human rights catastrophe our country has ever seen in Hurricane Katrina. Coupling this anniversary with the BP Oil Disaster, growing coal mining accidents, and the glaring lack of comprehensive national legislation to transition our nation to a safer and more sustainable economy, there are far too many stories of tragedy and destruction. Regardless, we must not ignore the stories of families and communities praying for new opportunity and a brighter future.
Now is the time to come together - not just to address the problems of today, but to build for the promise of tomorrow. If the past year has taught us anything, it's that we can have the country we need and deserve, a country where every community has ample opportunities for health and wealth, a country where we take care of each other and the planet. But to do that, we need to work together.
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is the CEO of Green For All, a national organization dedicated to building a green economy strong enough to lift all Americans out of poverty. For more information on Green For All visit www.greenforall.org and follow Phaedra on twitter @PhaedraEL
Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. is the President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus Education Fund. He is a minister, community activist, and organizer, and one of the most influential people in Hip Hop political life. For more information on the Hip Hop Caucus visit www.hiphopcaucus.org and follow him on Twitter @RevYearwood.