1. What do you do to rock your block? What organization (if any) do you work for? What does your day to day look like?
Over the past 6 years, I’ve been a dedicated sustainability leader and social entrepreneur in my community of Orlando, Florida; helping install Solar PV arrays; hosting energy competitions; performing energy assessments of commercial buildings; training the next generation of green professionals; and even sitting on the United Nations World Youth Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this summer for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
I’m the co-founder and executive director of a non-profit education and service-led organization called “IDEAS For Us (http://ideasforus.org),” helping to expand a youth-led sustainability movement called IDEAS (Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions). Since our inception in June 2008, IDEAS has grown from the University of Central Florida (UCF) into a Global network of chapters and affiliate partners at universities, K-12 schools and communities across the U.S. and parts of the World. We are working with youth leaders everyday to develop and implement sustainability solutions for the integrated Energy, Water, Food, Waste and Ecological challenges we’re facing today; and focus on youth empowerment, active citizenship and entrepreneurial innovation. Everyday, the IDEAS movement continues to grow and provides youth and emerging professionals with a vehicle for change; an outlet to become change agents and implement positive change to make our communities a better place. IDEAS is now at over 25 chapters through the country and have established international partners and programs in over 12 countries, including Nepal, Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia, Haiti, Costa Rica and much more.
What do you do to rock your block? What organization (if any) do you work for? What does your day to day look like?
We offer support to the Barrio Wakefield community, by keeping it real with the homies, the elders, the mamas, and the children planning on dreams and what can be if we all work together, collectively to thrive. Because we’re in the hood, we’re very familiar with the struggle in surviving that now we want to work on thriving. Day to day, we find ourselves working at our Monday through Friday gig/job then dedicating ourselves to our organization Tierra Y Libertad (Land and Liberty) and the community.
Whether being in people’s homes, schools, or organizations, we help with setting up any form of self sufficiency from worm bins, compost bins, gardens, chicken coops, rain water harvesting systems, or simply provide a safe, healthy, space for our community at our Centro where we’re always rocking our Barrio.
With poverty levels of 30-40% in Long Beach and a port that is the biggest employer but also the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, Stella Ursua knew something needed to be done! She works day in and out educating underserved communities about the potential for meaningful work in areas like renewable energy, public transportation and sustainable food and water systems through Green Jobs Awareness workshops with women, veterans, ex-offenders, the LGBTQ community and at-risk youth. Stella is a uniting force who manages to bring many different people to the table to find solutions to the problems in her community – from local government, businesses, and schools to the faith community and labor groups.
What inspired Stella to do this kind of work? After getting laid off in 2008 and then reading Van Jones’ book, The Green-Collar Economy, she realized that instead of doing general consulting, she could use her skills in leadership development to help others develop their own skills for green jobs. Stella and her partner Marcia plan to open the North American School for Green Technology soon, and a non-profit called Green Education Inc. to supplement their training school with education.
Stella envisions a future where people can have good paying jobs and be able to provide for their families while also living in a healthy environment that we can sustain for future generations.
When she’s not on-the-go working, Stella uses any chance she can get to visit Blues festivals and relax to the sounds of good music & the taste of good food.
Her advice to young people who want to start taking action on their block? Find out who the movers and shakers are in your community, talk to them about what you’d like to see in your neighborhood like jobs, cleaner water & air, etc. Then build a small coalition of people who feel the same way and reach out to organizations like Green For All and others for support! Stella is a champion for a just and green economy in her hometown of Long Beach, CA and beyond.
Read more about Stella’s work for the green economy here: http://bit.ly/wF52mC
Natasha Soto is a community organizer with The Clean Air Coalition in Buffalo, NY. She develops leaders, runs campaigns, advocates for public health policies, and trains community members to do their own street science.
Natasha works with residents in the lower West side of Buffalo to uncover what is in the air they breathe. Using specialized buckets, residents can trap an air sample and send it to a lab for testing. After a recent chemical fire at a lubricant warehouse, community members tested the air using the buckets and found elevated levels of a cancer-causing substance called Benzene. These findings led to a series of community meetings attended by the fire commissioner and other local officials with the aim of creating an effective emergency plan for residents. Natasha is also working with community members to organize house parties and teach-ins in order to train residents on how to canvass and advocate for clean air.
In order to visually depict the impact polluted air has on their community, Natasha is collecting discarded asthma pumps from local schools to show how many children in the community are impacted by poor air quality in the area. Engaging residents through hands-on activities, like these, that educate them about the impact the air they breathe has on their health is a great way to encourage activism in any community.
What do you do when your city is plagued with high unemployment and preventable diseases caused by air pollution and lack of access to healthy food? Ahmina Maxey dreams of a day when young people like her niece won’t be forced to move out of Detroit in search of a job or a healthier environment.
So, she decided to ‘Stand Up Speak Out,’ which is the name of the program she directs with the East Michigan Environmental Action Council in Detroit, MI. She organizes community members and trains youth to speak out at city council meetings and at the federal level about environmental justice issues facing their community: incinerators and diesel pollution, poor air quality, lack of access to healthy food, and unemployment – the most pressing issues facing Black & Latino communities in Detroit.
She also manages the youth program, serves as associate director of EMEAC, and is an active member of a coalition called Zero Waste Detroit – serving as watchdogs against incinerators and solid waste in the city. On a day-to-day basis, Ahmina does everything from training youth, educating community members and speaking at public hearings to getting snacks for meetings, managing a building, doing admin, fundraising, and creating the organization’s websites – block rocker to the max!
Ahmina Maxey has been a fearless community leader since being inspired by her Environmental Justice professor Dorceta Taylor in college. Her dream is that everyone in Detroit will have a clean, safe and healthy environment, free of incineration – and she works around the clock to make this happen.
What’s your dream? Check out http://bit.ly/s65Sgu for tools and inspiration to start Rocking your Block!
Who would’ve known that becoming a mom could turn you into an activist? Elisa Batista became a vocal advocate for clean air in the Latino community after having kids. The “Mama Bear” in her came out, Elisa says. Her instinct to protect future generations from the harmful effects of air pollution inspired her to educate her community about how they’re disproportionately affected by pollution.
A savvy social media activist and blogger, Elisa uses writing as a tool to educate and empower her community to make sure that their voices are heard louder than that of corporations. She also shows up at city council meetings with her kids, making sure her family is on the front lines when a plant is polluting in her neighborhood. In 2005, she helped to launch Mother Talkers, a progressive parenting blog with her partners. In her free time, this powerhouse mom runs half-marathons and is planning on running a full one soon!
She’s won many awards but, Elisa attributes her success to her humble beginnings, to her upbringing by her Cuban and Puerto Rican immigrant parents. Elisa reminds us not to underestimate the power of others (and social media) to be powerful sources of change!
You can check out her award-winning bilingual blogs at MotherTalkers.com, MomsRising.org and MomsCleanAirForce.org.
Clando Brownlee is what Green The Block is all about! He sees the need to help his community become self-sufficient and take ownership of their blocks, so he’s committed to educating youth, being a mentor, and organizing residents and local institutions for sustainability.
Currently, he’s leading a group of youth in collecting e-waste from neighborhood bins. They use the money to support backyard growers to be able to sell at farmers markets. He also works to encourage energy audits of local churches. Clando’s community resilience work is not only far-reaching, but intergenerational — he works with little ones at his daycare program, teaches 4th graders, and even trains college students to teach young people about e-waste and recycling. As president and founder of the first African American Lions club in California, he works hard to make issues of environmental protection relevant for the African-American, Latino and faith-based communities.
In his spare time, Clando listens to 70’s funk music, surfs the net to educate himself about gardening and e-waste, and spends time with his family. Clando Brownlee has come a long way from his early days of struggling with drug and alcohol addictions to becoming one of the strongest African American voices for environmental justice in San Diego. More than anything, he understands the power of young people to transform their community when given the opportunity. Way to rock the block, Clando!
The best place to create real change is exactly where you are. 23-year old Diop Adisa works only two blocks away from where he grew up in Highland Ficinity, Indianapolis – a historically black community that has not let the devastating effects of the drug war stop the development of local entrepreneurship. Diop is dedicated leading youth in self-mastery for community empowerment. The inspiration for this youth program at the Kheprw Institute was birthed out of his own father’s dedication to help him through school when he was 14 years old. Diop was inspired to come back after graduating college to support the next generation of black youth ages 9-15 who face the same challenges that he did. He coaches them in public speaking and engages them in critical thinking by breaking down abstract concepts that most people only learn at the college level, like ethnocentrism and cultural relativism, grounding these concepts in their daily struggles.
At the Kheprw Institute students learn the importance of self-sufficiency. Together they built an aquaponics system to grow their own organic food, using water collected from rain barrels to help to relieve sewer overflow at the same time. “We have too much dependence on centralized power. If the grocery stores close tomorrow, people will starve. We need to learn to provide for ourselves,” Diop says.
Diop believes that for any degree of sustainability to be reached, it has to come from the ground up.
Inspired by music artists like Outkast, Nas and Erykah Badu, Diop also believes that we need to place more emphasis on art. He started a digital record label called The Price of Freedom to help rappers save time and money that they lose waiting for a deal. “Our price of freedom is our commitment to our craft,” he says.
Green The Block is about stepping up to bring the benefits of a greeneconomy to our neighborhoods. It’s grounded in real people stepping upto engage our communities around critical issues like air, water, andfood.
We launched Block Rockers to lift up not only fresh projects from theblock, but the people who make them happen. These are the stories ofordinary people who dedicate time and energy to improving quality oflife for their neighborhood.
Look out for a new Block Rocker featured on our site each week! Tonominate someone, send an email to Seema at email@example.com.
Green the Block y’all!