Changemakers@USGBC: Episode 3: Building through diversity | U.S. Green Building Council
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Published on
Posted in Community
Published on
Posted in Community

On this episode of Changemakers@USGBC, I talk with Jeremy Hays, Executive Director of Green for All, and Eva Blake, Senior Director of Green Initiatives at Youthbuild USA. It was one of the most engaging conversations I’ve ever had. We taped this show, so you can watch the video or listen to the podcast. Here’s a taste of our discussion:

Rukesh: Why is it important to have people of color at the table in conversations about climate change?

Jeremy: People of color are worse hit by climate change; we’ve seen it in Katrina and Sandy, and we see it in asthma rates that coincide with pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. There is an argument to be made that the people who are impacted most by any problem should have a definite role in figuring out and understanding that problem well enough to be able to solve it and lead with solutions that deliver some relief to those most affected first—making sure they’re not at the back of the line to get help.

Polling data shows that people of color are more concerned about climate change than their white counterparts. People of modest means are more likely to be taking individual actions in their lives to do something about climate than affluent people. That doesn’t fit our idea of the environmentalist being affluent and white. That’s because there’s been a story around environmentalism, and what it is and who it’s for, that is disconnected from the hopes and dreams and struggles of a vast swath of the country. 
We need to listen to people, help bring their own dreams forward, bring solutions to the problems they have, and be part of this big green family with all these different people and stories in it.

Rukesh: Talent is ubiquitous; opportunity is not. It is the reality of our world and the cause of major complications, but it can be changed.

Eva: When you give a young person an opportunity, they emerge feeling completely renewed, more confident in themselves, wanting to go back to the community and give back themselves, because they were given an opportunity. What you see is a whole new generation of leaders who then go out and try to uplift others. 

Rukesh: From my own experience, I know diversity matters because representation matters. Diversity not only brings more perspectives to the conversation, it creates better solutions, and it makes people feel validated. At the end of the day, all of us want to be heard, we want to be seen and we want to know that we matter.

Eva: The injustice of not being represented by your leaders is a complete insult. As Native Americans, we have never been compensated for the loss of land that this entire country has built its wealth off of. African Americans have never been compensated for the free labor [with which] slavery helped to build this country. Not being represented fosters bad feelings, which are not conducive to what we need right now. 

I was raised in a Native community. I was taught to honor all life. I was taught that the animals are our brothers and sisters, the sun is our father, the moon is our grandmother and the earth is our mother. To then grow up and learn that we went from 100 percent of the population to 1 percent of the population…we were enslaved, we were killed. Genocide. It hurts to this day, still, even though I didn’t personally experience it. But I understand that we have to forgive one another so we can learn to work together.

Rukesh: And forgiveness is not saying, "Hey, I’m totally fine with what you did." It’s saying "I accept what happened, I can’t change the past, but I’m not going to let you impact my life negatively, so we’re going to move forward."

Eva: Yeah, or, seeking reparations might need to happen before you can get certain people on board.

Listen to the podcast

Now we want to know what you think. What was your favorite part of today's episode? Tell us why diversity is important to you. Leave a comment below or use #ChangemakersUSGBC on social media. Want more? Check out the full series.;

Tweet: #ChangemakersUSGBC: we NEED #diversity in the #climatechange convo; @jhays88 @GreenForAll, E. Blake @YouthBuildUSA.


A little more about our Changemakers and their organizations:

Jeremy Hays believes everyone can be a leader, that leadership comes in all forms and that you don’t have to be the person on stage to lead. Jeremy was a founding staff member at Green For All (GFA). As Field Director, he helped propel GFA from a start-up nonprofit into a national force for change. He led the organization’s development, implementation and replication of green economic and workforce development models. Jeremy has broad experience bringing together diverse stakeholders to address poverty, environmental issues and economic development. He holds master’s degrees in city planning and in international development from the University of California, Berkeley. Green For All, founded by Van Jones, works to build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. 

Eva Blake is a proud Native American whose identity informs everything she does. In 2005, Eva launched the Green Initiative at YouthBuild USA to provide opportunities in green careers and environmental leadership to its students and graduates by building affordable green homes in their communities. Under her leadership, the program has raised approximately $13 million in funds and helped over 2,600 construction trainers, students and staff. Eva sits on the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Advisory Group at USGBC. She is a LEED Green Associate, and graduated with honors from the University of California Santa Cruz. Youthbuild USA gives low-income young people who have fallen off the edges of society the opportunity to transform their own lives, get back on track to adult responsibility and give back to their communities.