01 November 2009

Dr. Greg Watson and Blacks in Green

While the event took place more than a week ago, I'd love to spend some time talking about what took place. Two Fridays ago, I went to a speaking engagement hosted by Blacks in Green where Dr. Greg Watson was speaking.

There are a couple things I'd like to talk about therefore bare with me if this gets long. Why don't you go grab a cup of tea and come back after you've settled down a bit because there are quite a few things I want to say. And I don't know if I may some things that are offensive or make you uneasy and I won't apologize for them but I'd love your reactions to them Or maybe what I'll write will be roses and sunshine and we will all feel better about the world. I have no clue right now.

First, I found out about Blacks in Green while taking courses in Green Business through the Chicago Center for Green Technology. The courses that I took for the most part were engaging, challenging, insightful and full of lively and interesting debate. Although the class I was most looking forward to turned out to be the biggest disappointment unfortunately. While taking these courses there were quite a few people who I continued to see throughout the various classes. Because we had to sign in with who we were affiliated with, I started seeing a reoccurring theme of people from "Blacks in Green." Eventually I googled it.

Now let me pause. While I am Black, you'd never catch me starting a group like Blacks in Green. While I think it has its time and place and it geared towards a certain group, its just not the type of thing I would do. Those are the same people who would get upset with a group called "White in Green." We'd label that as racist. So why Blacks in Green. I just think it limits the possibilities. Besides, I don't think its a sustainable approach in the long run. I know if I started a blog called "Black Girl, Green World." that blog would generate more traffic and if I added "finna" and did a post on "How to be Green in the Hood," so many black people would read my blog and perhaps nominate me for the Black Web Blog Awards.

And while that is great for someone. I think its foolish for me. Whatever. While I don't like the name of "Black in Green" I did join their meet up group because they do all sorts of things all over Chicago and I felt like I had something to learn. Even though I've been in the group for almost a year though, I never participated in any of their meetups. Going to Dr. Watson's speaking engagement was the first.

First thing I noticed was....

....lots of PAPER!!!!!

There were four sign up sheets for an event that had about forty people. I mean, really. I know you don't want people waiting forever to check in...but for sheets. That's like ten people sign in per sheet. Didn't someone own a laptop? Couldn't they have had an eletronic sign in. You walk in and the person at the table ask your name and whatnot and they type it in?

Then the table was just sprawled with all sorts of hand outs and this and that and blah blah blah. And even during the conversation, they passed out pieces of yellow paper so that you could write your questions on for Dr. Watson. Honestly, Dr. Watson had made the room so inviting and welcoming that it didn't need to be formal enough to write questions down. After the first question was asked from the sheet, everyone just spoke freely.

There were snacks. I didn't take the time to see but I wondered if they were organic and local. There was wine. I wondered where did it come from and what impact it placed on the earth. And I wondered if they wondered about it.

Some politician's assistant spoke first. He read from some script about all the wonderful things Chicago is doing to make the world more sustainable and while many of them were actually intriguing and good to learn about, I rolled my eyes. I thought, "You have this whole freakng speech and yet I can't find a place that I can recycle and compost in the city. Are you kidding me? Shut up and let Dr. Watson speak."

Next two journalist spoke. They both were award winning, world traveler amazing people. And I thought, it would be great to know them but that wasn't why I came.

Then Naomi Davis spoke. She read a poem. And her energy was very....hmm remember the talking tree from Pocahantas. The wise spiritual welcoming tree. Something about the energy of that tree reminds me of her. I mean that as a highest compliment. I'd love if someone said you remind me of a mountain, its strength. Or of the wind or the moon. So I really mean it with the best intentions.

Then Dr. Watson spoke.

He spoke on many things and I took detailed notes and perhaps that will be a post too in which I just give you the minutes of the speaking engagement. Right now I'm just writing from memory of things that were said and what stood out.

Dr. Watson spoke a great while about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative.  Have you ever heard of it? I remember hearing about it in one of my sociology classes during undergrad. I believe it may have been Urban Sociology. (Since I have a problem with keeping every notebook from college, I'm sure I still have the notes from that study and lecture and will look for it). I've taken the words straight from their website because there is no way for me to say it better.

The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) is a nonprofit community-based planning and organizing entity rooted in the Roxbury/North Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. DSNI's approach to neighborhood revitalization is comprehensive including economic, human, physical, and environmental growth. It was formed in 1984 when residents of the Dudley Street area came together out of fear and anger to revive their neighborhood that was devastated by arson, disinvestment, neglect and redlining practices, and protect it from outside speculators.

DSNI works to implement resident-driven plans partnering with nonprofit organizations, community development corporations (CDCs), businesses and religious institutions serving the neighborhood, as well as banks, government agencies, corporations and foundations. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative has grown into a collaborative effort of over 3,000 residents, businesses, non-profits and religious institutions members committed to revitalizing this culturally diverse neighborhood of 24,000 people and maintaining its character and affordability. DSNI is the only community-based nonprofit in the country which has been granted eminent domain authority over abandoned and within its boundaries.
Later on, it says....

DSNI's major accomplishment has been, and continues to be, organizing and empowering the residents of the Dudley Street neighborhood to create a shared vision of the neighborhood prioritizing development without displacement and bringing it to reality by creating strategic partnerships with individuals and organizations in the private, government, and nonprofit sectors. That shared vision first emerged from a community-wide process conducted initially in 1987 that resulted in a resident-developed, comprehensive revitalization plan.

The 1987 comprehensive plan was updated in our urban village visioning process in 1996, involving over 180 residents and organization representatives. Their ideas affirm many elements of the 1987 plan, add important refinements and renew their commitment to creating an "urban village" and declare their belief that "Anything Is Possible". From this process, a major commitment was made to enhance economic power in the Dudley neighborhood. Through DSNI’s community land trust, the Dudley neighborhood has the only permanent affordable housing in the city of Boston.

Residents continue to guide this plan which established community control over a critical mass of the 1,300 parcels of abandoned land that had come to characterize the neighborhood. Residents gained control by convincing the authorities in Boston’s city government to take the unprecedented step of granting the community the power of eminent domain over much of the vacant land combined with a partnership with the city on the publicly-owned vacant land. The Dudley neighborhood thus acquired valuable assets, established a community land trust, set a criteria for development and a "place at the table" for the planning and development of the community.
 Did you take the time to really read that? What if every neighborhood was like that? Wow. We'd really get things done. Dr. Watson brough up Dudley Street for two reasons because he once served as their Executive Director for four years and highlight the power of what communities can do when they ask and take initiative.

I believe Blacks in Green partners with various neighborhood initiatives and groups in the chicago land area and some leaders and activist were in attendance. One group represented a portion of the Riverdale community and after hearing about the Dudley Street Neighborhood, they spoke of their frustration with limitations and with not knowing what they could do. One woman spoke at lengths about that fact that many of the local cable services refuse to allow cable in that area. I'm not sure of the technical way to explain this.

For example in my building if you want internet, you can only sign up via comcast. My building or neighborhood or who knows..haven't authorize AT&T for example to offer internet. And even if they did, I don't even think AT&T is in that area, although they are three blocks away. How that is divided is a mystery to me.

Therefore with this neighborhood in Riverdale...NONE of the cable and internet provides will touch their land.

Some people spoke about the impossibility of that. There was no way that it was completely impossible for them to have internet in their neighborhood. Others asked whether they had them at the library or not? I think the answer was no because their library couldn't afford it. That led to a woman from that group saying everyone couldn't afford a computer. Then a man in the back mumbled that they couldn't afford not to have one. I agreed with him. With the cheap cost of brand new dells, how someone can't afford one is beyond me. And if a brand new dell is cheap, how about a refurbished one. Even cheaper. Where else is your money going? Financial priority, planning and management in the black community leaves much to be desired.

Another man stood up and said why didn't they pool the neighborhood and collect money. One might only be able to give 75 or 100 or something and then as a large group they go to best buy and said, "We have x amount of dollars, can we get a deal on 75 computers." Then he said, you may not get them all but maybe they will give you 60. And there you go, your neighborhood has computers.

How that allows them access to the internet, I am not sure?

Listen, I know someone might think, how the hell is she telling people how to spend their money. Some of their neighborhoods are the most at risk, have the highest unemployment rate and receive little assistance. But some of these same people always wear the latest jordans, go to the beauty shop every week and always were Apple Bottom Jeans and maybe that's why you can't afford a computer. Not because you don't make a million but because when you have 100 dollars to give it to Apple Bottom Jeans instead of organic apples and an apple computer. (I am going to piss someone off. It is not my intent.)

Many of these efforts such as the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative work because they are community based. And the lack of unity amongst communities right now is ridiculous. Children are beating each other to death with two ply wood, so I'm not sure how those same neighborhoods are to band together and proactively seek internet resources and discounted computers. I don't believe its a hopeless situation but I just have heard of any realistic approached to progression.

One older gentleman stood up and spoke about how many resources and networking possibilities were just inside the room we were in. One person would say they were stuck with one kind of problem and someone else would stand up and say they worked with organizations that dealt with those problems. One person would say they needed a resource for something and someone else would stand up and give them a website to visit. So this older gentleman said there was a need for centralized information where people could go to find out about resources. Many of these people knew what they needed or had ideas but had no clue how to go about finding them.

This made my ears perk up because that's the type of thing I am interested in finding and being a part of. Last year when my company began to take sustainable initiatives, I had no clue where to begin. I just google corn cups and found articles and googled green business. I was starting from scratch. And sure there were organizations I could pay to be a part of to find a more centralized approach to this information but something about that annoyed me. Therefore, I started a binder with all of my findings with the research, with products, with websites, I started ordering books and sample products. This binder was my go to guide for all things green business. One of our vendors came by our office one day to introduce a new product we had recently purchased and in an impromtu meeting I ended up pulling out my binder. He was so impressed with this information that he offered to buy it from me on the spot! I didn't sell it. It had some things that contained sensitive information. And why should be pay when I found all the information for free. I had just organized it. Plus, knowing him he was just going to restamp it with his companies name and say he had developed it. I declined his offer.

But seeing how eager he was to purchase this binder, I wondered how many other people could benefit from something like this. Or did it already exist? When I was pursuing my certificate in Green Business, I took a course called "Researching Green." This was the one I most looked forward to. I spent hours upon hours researching things and it was only when I was 75% of the way done, that I found out how to really search for what I needed. So I thought this class would give great direction to me on how to further my own research. PLEASE! Girlfriend had hardly any clue what she was talking about. I was a little upset that she had wasted over two hours of my time basically teaching me how to type "green" in google. Aah!

Back to the talk with Dr. Watson. One thing he emphasize was the power that we could have. Communities could get together, develop municipalities or go to ones that already exist and take a proactive approach to the utilities in their neighborhood. We believe...well I believe I can only have comcast because that's what I'm told. But what if my entire building...or ALL the buildings my management company ran banded together and decided we wanted to change. I've never known a group of people in unity who banded together for a social movement only receive "no" forever. Eventually some form of change took place, even if it took decades, death and getting your hands really dirty. I just find it inspirational that if a community could get the local government to grant them eminent domain ... what can't we do?

This really encourages me when it comes to my building and their lack of recycling. I want to write a petition and letter and gather all the signatures of those in my building and go to our management company. Perhaps we can spur change! We just need to figure out how to link up, leverage each other and lead. That's the motto of Blacks in Green. "Link. Leverage. Lead." I like that.

Before any speaking took place, a video was shown that was so inspirational. I hope you take the time to watch this 6 minute video and perhaps if you want to learn more you should visit his website. William needs no introduction.

Click the link for more information on William.

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