Environmental justice is a right, not a choice!

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Written by Katherine Dennis, a Nashville native and the Little Rock SoS Garden Manager!

This past week has been our orientation & training week for the Little Rock Summer of Solutions team. We have gone through a myriad of trainings including community organizing, conflict resolution, and social entrepreneurship.

One of the most meaningful trainings in which we participated was focused around environmental justice. I have studied this topic academically, and I understand what it generally means: how the environmental and people interact, and is it just. That is a really naive definition, and so I googled it to find out a little more about what it means. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Okay, this is another academic definition, and I’m going to try and break it down a bit. Are people being treated fairly, regardless of their income, race, etc., in terms of the development and policies that are affecting them? I can think of national examples: The Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, AR on March 29, 2013 that killed flora and fauna. Another example are the oil operations in Niger that have spilled oil slowly over the past twenty years, thus, destroying their precious ecosystems. I understand environmental justice on the global scale, but how does it affect singular neighborhoods in the US?

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Little Rock Summer of Solutions: Getting off the ground

This Winter and Spring, our team in Little Rock, Arkansas will be organizing Little Rock Summer of Solutions. We are really excited about putting together this 8-week summer program that will address environmental justice issues in a traditionally underserved area of town. Our focus area is ripe for social reform, we have a passionate team, and we believe that our initiatives will bring healthy food, homes, and community feeling to our neighborhood focus: the 12th Street Corridor of Little Rock Arkansas.

The Central Arkansas community:

There is already a huge movement in the central Arkansas community for urban development and community cooperation. Young people are breaking new ground in the local food movement, alternative energy sector, anti-oppression work, and entrepreneurial innovation as evidenced by a growing wave of youth-run urban farms, energy auditing businesses, feminist book clubs, non-profit organizations, cooperative start-ups and other initiatives.

For the last few years, members of the Little Rock community have worked towards the historic preservation of the downtown area, a traditionally low-income neighborhood. Assortments of sustainable, small businesses are opening here, and seasonal community festivals are bringing new energy downtown. While several of our potential Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants have been elbow deep in this work for years, the low-income inhabitants of the neighborhood have been excluded from the benefits that are accruing to already privileged individuals and groups. Our work will be focused on co-creating community programs that are designed to benefit the members of the community where we will be working. Continue reading

YEA Corps Launch Day

My name is Carey deVictoria-Michel. This summer, I was a participant in the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions and during this time my eyes were opened to all the amazing things that are happening in this city.  Through funding available to Summer of Solutions participants, I was able to create a position for myself at YEA Corps, a Minneapolis based non-profit that leads educational programs focused on entrepreneurship and sustainability. This is the first blog post in a series by the five Summer of Solutions alumni who will be building their own careers with support from Grand Aspirations in the coming year.

Me (r) talking to a student at the YEA Corps launch day at Unity Charter School.

My job with YEA Corps this year will be to mange a project at the YEA Corps program at the Minnesota Internship Center at the Unity Campus. Unity is a charter school located in North Minneapolis working with students who come from diverse backgrounds, in a neighborhood considered to be a food desert. YEA Corps and Minnesota Internship Center received a grant from Hennepin County to start an experiential learning program for environmental education in North Minneapolis. By the end of the year these kids will have built their own aquaponics systems, created their own business and marketing plan to sell fresh produce and fish, and have learned about sustainability and food systems. We had our big launch day with the students this past week. Continue reading

Creation is Our Essence

Our economy is crumbling. One in seven Americans live in poverty. The only thing our partisan politic-deadlock government can agree on is a free trade agreement with South Korea that isn’t likely to produce anything different from every other free trade agreement we’ve created.

More for the rich, less for the poor.

So why the squirrel?

It brings me back. Back to the single greatest period of growth and leadership development I’ve experienced in my life: Summer of Solutions – Twin Cities. It was the summer of 2010, and it was when my potential to lead, to challenge, to create, was unlocked.

I learned how to organize, how to facilitate, how to create a proposal for successful implementation of energy efficiency measures in homes and then how to present it to the administration of an electric utility, the imam of a local mosque, the head of a children’s summer program. I learned about oppression and privilege. I learned how to use Google Docs.

Together, we door-knocked, created an urban farm in a day, fixed and rode bikes, hosted community listening sessions, developed plans to convert an old car factory into a green manufacturing and living zone, planted and harvested food across Minneapolis, wrote business plans, toured renewable energy facilities, organized fundraising events, and ate a lot of delicious vegan food.

That summer changed me, because it empowered me. It gave me the tools I needed to help create the vision I and others have for our world. A world where communities overcome divisions and rise up together to take head on the economic, social and environmental challenges we face.

There’s a reason the dandelion is the focal point of the Summer of Solutions logo. A versatile, highly nutritious plant that can take root almost anywhere, grow, and disperse for miles around the parent plant, the dandelion defines the methodology of the program to gather in low-income communities, build up local infrastructure while training the next generation of green social entrepreneurs, and spread.

I was fortunate enough to go through this great experience, and now it’s time for me to return the favor. So I’m creating.

In 2012, application pending, there will be a Summer of Solutions program in Los Angeles. Building largely off the great work of a local organization, La Causa, we will be working with various different organizations and leaders, and our focuses are likely to include food access, green business, urban agriculture, complete streets and bike advocacy, green manufacturing, renewable energy projects, and community organizing.

I can’t wait to see what creations emerge.

The application to build your own Summer of Solutions program is open until next Saturday, October 29th. I encourage others who are ready to take this step: to join an incredibly talented and growing network of young leaders who aren’t waiting for help from above–they are working now to create the change they wish to see in the world.