Insight News

Feb 10th

NAACP and Sierra Club honor “Green Heroes of Color”

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keithThe Sierra Club North Star Chapter and the Minneapolis NAACP partnered together to hold an Earth Day Celebration to honor “Green Heroes of Color” on Thursday, April 22. The celebration included dinner, a demonstration garden, and youth performances by Climate Change Crew and the Arts Us dance crew. St. Paul City Council Member Melvin Carter III (Ward 1) and former Minnesota State Representative, and governor hopeful, Matt Entenza were also in attendance.

Climate Change Crew is part of the Kitty Anderson Youth Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Their song, “Change Is Needed,” won the Green for All National ‘Dream Reborn’ contest.

Keynote speaker Leslie Fields, the National Director of Environmental Justice for the Sierra Club and a former lobbyist for the National NAACP Washington Bureau, congratulated the people of Minnesota for all the work we have done regarding food security and environmental justice and hopes we will continue to lead the country and be a voice for those who are not heard.

Van Jones was one of the Green Heroes being celebrated for his founding of Green For All and his work with The Green-Collar Jobs campaign. There were six total “Green Heroes of Color” being honored at the celebration. Also among them was Robert Bullard, who, in 2008 won the Building Economic Alternatives Award from Co-Op America and was named an “Environmental Leader of the Century” by Newsweek. Majora Carter was another Green Hero. She founded Sustainable South Bronx and pulled out a Tibetan flag during the 2008 Summer Olympics Torch Relay. Also celebrated was Tom B.K. Goldtooth, the Executive Director of the Indigenous Environment Network and co-producer of the award-winning film, Drumbeat For Mother Earth.

Annie Young, who was also in attendance at the celebration, was honored as a Green Hero for her work in the founding of the Environmental Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM). She is the Environmental Justice organizer for the Harrison Neighborhood Association and is currently serving her twenty-first year on the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and is the Vice President and Chair of Planning.

EJAM works in collaboration with low-income communities, communities of color, and Indigenous communities to create equitable, healthful, and sustainable futures for all generations. The group believes that “environmental justice means that no population should be forced to shoulder an unfair share of exposure to the negative effects of pollution.” EJAM has worked to reduce mercury pollution in Minnesota, helped create laws to protect children from lead poisoning, and provide youth the tools needed to reduce cancer causing chemicals in their communities. The group also promotes energy-efficient homes and has reduced exposure to air pollution from the Riverside coal-fired power plant in Minneapolis.

US Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) was another Green Hero in attendance who was being celebrated for his part in the founding of EJAM and for being a legislative champion of clean energy. “What [do environmental injustices] say about how we rate our fellow human beings? Wherever there is environmental injustice, we will ban together and fight,” he said.

Earlier that day, Ellison had introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives that would ban the use of atrazine, an herbicide used to control broadleaf weeds and grasses in corn fields. Atrazine is the most commonly detected chemical in US waters and levels are highest in Minnesota. The chemical is associated with infertility, low birth weight, abnormal infant development in humans, and creating hermaphrodite frogs. “Working in agriculture should not endanger your life,” Ellison said.

Karen Monahan, Community Organizer for the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and a member of the Minneapolis NAACP Executive Committee, also spoke at the celebration. “It doesn’t matter what the color of your skin is or what neighborhood you live in, we all care about the environment, it’s part of our everyday lives,” she said.

Alessandra Williams, an organizer at HIRE Minnesota, also spoke at the event. She said that we need to bring together green jobs and hiring equity to ensure that everyone has a chance to take part in the new clean economy. “Communities of color have traditionally been left out. We have to unite as a community to get it done,” Williams said.

HIRE Minnesota is a coalition of community organizations led by Summit Academy OIC and the Will Steger Foundation. The coalition is seeking public investments that grow our economy; provide living wages, green jobs, and training opportunities to low-income people and people of color; promote healthy communities; works to ensure that the agencies in charge of public infrastructure investments meet their women and minority hiring, contracting, and training goals; and that our government is accountable and transparent to all communities.

Collie Graddick, an agricultural consultant from The Co-Op Project, discussed a “community food system” where individuals within a community can cooperatively work together to start small, independent agribusinesses. According to Graddick, urban agriculture could be the most sustainable green job. “Farming isn’t all about getting your hands dirty, it’s also about packaging and marketing the food…Kids shouldn’t be thinking about getting a job,” but starting their own business and obtain food justice at the same time. “We can eat our way out of the recession,” Graddick said.

The Executive Director for the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a coalition that works for racial and environmental justice, Russ Adams, discussed transportation equity at the celebration. He argues that the Metropolitan Council is moving too slow in regards to light rail construction. Even so, it is vital for the community to be heavily involved in the decision-making process. In the early planning stages of the Central Corridor light rail, the central section of the line, the poorest stretch, had a mile between stops; whereas everywhere else only had one half of a mile between stops. The neighborhood “Stops for Us” campaign was able to successfully convince the Metropolitan Council to add more stops. Adams says that this level of community involvement should also occur at all levels of the Bottineau Corridor light rail decision-making. He asked: “Whose vision will win out, [Hennepin County’s] or the residents’?”

Boise Jones of Emerge!, also discussed urban agriculture and the commonality of environmental injustices. “It’s about sustainability, food justice and security. We’re all in this together,” he said.


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