What work do you do?
I run a very small, very new nonprofit organization called Verde.
What does your organization do? What, in a perfect world, would constitute “mission accomplished”?
The mission of Verde is to increase the economic health of low-income and people-of-color communities by creating environmental job training, employment, and entrepreneurial opportunities, drawing tighter the connections between environmental protection and economic opportunity.
Really it means that we had a perfectly reasonable and very frustrating realization: that low-income folks — people who really, really need good and healthy jobs — weren’t really getting much of sustainable development’s economic benefits. So we thought, “Damn if they’re going to grow this economy without us.”
What are you working on at the moment?
Verde’s first venture is the Verde Native Plant Nursery, a project to deliver environmental job training and entrepreneurial opportunities to residents of affordable housing. The nursery protects and restores aquatic resources and ecosystems by providing ferns, rushes, and sedges for use in wetland restoration, streamside revegetation, and storm-water management projects. We also provide a highly skilled crew to install and maintain these areas.
Nursery employees receive family wages with benefits, work in a healthy and environmentally beneficial field, have year-round and full-time employment, receive job training, and have the chance for revenue sharing. They will also have the chance to become business owners, either through nursery ownership or through Verde support to establish their own landscaping and/or nursery businesses.
What long and winding road led you to your current position?
For as long as I can remember, I held very strong, initially distinct interests in environmental protection and civil rights. I have a serious problem with authority, which was disruptive until I started working on environmental-justice issues.
Photo: Hacienda CDC.
In 2001, while working at an affordable-housing provider named Hacienda Community Development Corporation, I participated in a fellowship, the Environmental Leadership Program. We had lots of conversations — about diversity, environmental justice, the environmental movement’s homogeneous demographic, etc. — and it made me wonder what would happen if major environmental groups decided to prioritize those environmental policies with the best potential to deliver job and business opportunities to low-income and people-of-color communities.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in New Orleans. I live now in Portland, Ore.
Who is your environmental hero?
Who is your environmental nightmare?
What are your environmental vices?
Bacon, dry cleaning, and nail polish.
What are you reading these days?
Stationed throughout my house, there are plenty of partially read, overly serious, pictureless books. So, of course, I mostly read comic books. I really like Too Much Coffee Man/How To Be Happy.
What’s your favorite meal?
Boiled crawfish and very, very cold beer.
Which stereotype about environmentalists most fits you?
I cope with my own insecurities by trying to (tell other people how to) solve the world’s problems.
What’s your favorite place or ecosystem?
My front yard. It’s got two very tall lilac bushes and a swing set, so there’s lots of stuff for kids (mine, neighbors’) to climb on. And there are apples, cherries, pears, grapes, and blackberries in the backyard.
What’s one thing the environmental movement is doing badly, and how could it be done better?
The environmental movement does a terrible job of addressing the daily concern of many low-income and people-of-color communities: good jobs.
Think about a situation familiar to many Grist readers: a (city, county, state, whatever) council hearing on proposed new, stronger watershed-protection rules. On one side are the environmentalists, and on the other side the property-rights, wise-use types. For an elected official, this is a pretty standard debate.
What if a different group of people walked in — the kind of people who (right now) don’t attend council hearings on watershed protection — and they said something like, “We like these stronger rules because they mean a better income for us and better lives for our families. Watershed-protection rules created this job I have right now — a good job, with a good wage and benefits. I moved out of affordable housing, and one day, I might start my own restoration business.” What would happen then?
Who’s your favorite musical artist?
I listen to a lot of Paul Westerberg — my son, the babymommy/my ex, and I went to see him when he was here in Portland last year. It was Calvin’s first show, and we stood right up front. To this day, Calvin swears that Paul played “Skyway” just for him. I also love Beth Orton, but she broke my heart last year, twice …
What’s your favorite movie?
I don’t get to the movies enough, but I liked Broken Flowers. I also liked Lost in Translation — that Jesus and Mary Chain “Just Like Honey” outro was beautiful and caught me completely off guard. Now that I think about it, the last three movies I saw in the theater were Bill Murray movies.
If you could have every InterActivist reader do one thing, what would it be?
Learn another language.
What are you happy about right now?
My kids are healthy, they’ve got giant hearts, and they both still talk to me. And I’m working on something I really believe in and had a role in dreaming up/creating.