Rust Belt cities are full of abandoned houses. Rahwa Ghirmatzion transforms old buildings into green, healthy homes.
Rust Belt cities are full of abandoned houses.
Rahwa Ghirmatzion transforms old buildings into green, healthy homes.
When 8-year-old Rahwa Ghirmatzion moved to a small, rural town in western New York, she wondered where all the people of color were. As a refugee who fled Sudan and then war-torn Eritrea, she felt isolated in her new country. She eventually landed in Buffalo, where she feels at home among the city’s estimated 22,000 foreign-born residents — but she also discovered a city of thousands of old, vacant houses.
[pullquote share=”true” tweet=”“We had homes like swiss cheese, asthma, lead pipes.” -@RahwaG” hashtag=”Grist50″]“We had homes like swiss cheese, asthma rates, and lead pipes. We wanted quality, affordable housing.” [/pullquote]
Now, at PUSH Buffalo (People United for Sustainable Housing), Ghirmatzion works to build affordable, green housing in Buffalo’s West Side, a 25-block neighborhood where many of the cities’ immigrants and refugees live. Since 2005, PUSH has rehabilitated 18 homes and placed over 20 people in full-time green construction jobs.
Ghirmatzion believes the best economic and environmental solutions come from members of the community, so she holds monthly meetings with local residents. The PUSH gatherings often involve games and puzzles, which help people break down language barriers and give everyone a voice. “It’s about working with what you have and building off of that,” Ghirmatzion says. “They tell us what to do.”
The world feels pretty broken right now. That’s why we need Fixers — bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. For our annual list of emerging green leaders, Grist brings you 50 innovators with fresh, forward-thinking solutions to some of humanity's biggest challenges. Credits
Photo of Rahwa Ghirmatzion: Stephen Yang
- Andrew Simon, Amelia Urry
- Mignon Khargie, Amelia Bates
- Nathan Letsinger
- Project Manager
- Matt Grisafi
- Social Media
- Cody Permenter
- Video Producer
- Daniel Penner
- Executive Editor
- Scott Dodd
- Clayton Aldern Ted Alvarez Eve Andrews Vishakha Darbha Sabrina Imbler Nathanael Johnson Samantha Larson Katie Mast Amy McDermott Emma Foehringer Merchant Caroline Saunders Darby Minow Smith Katharine Wroth Kate Yoder
Meet All The Fixers
This Brooklynite retrofits cities.
This politician fights for polluted communities.
Grist Member pick
This clothing expert revives dead threads.
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This innovator is stitching together a clothing movement.
Van Jones' pick
This entrepreneur is diversifying cleantech.
This climate organizer works on the front lines in Miami.
Leilani Münter's pick
This sustainability director drives change in Orlando.
This urban farmer grows in tight spaces.
This politician reps bipartisan climate action.
Tom Colicchio's pick
This farmer uses AI for efficiency.
Al Gore's pick
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This housing advocate is rebuilding Buffalo.
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This farmer champions efficiency.
This startup founder built a Fitbit for the planet.
This policy wonk shows state leadership on solar.
This lawyer stands with indigenous activists.
Grist Member pick
This developer built an app for food waste.
This young farmer is saving soil.
L.A. Youth Groups
These teens sued for environmental justice.
This farmer gives vets a chance to grow.
This entrepreneur helps the solar industry compete.
This advocate connects green Latinos.
This scientist brings social justice to her field.
This teenager gives the youngest generation a voice.
This organizer fights for safer waste disposal.
This founder empowers people to choose renewables.
This councilwoman keeps Boise booming.
This airline exec is greening travel.
This food advocate coaches up chefs.
This Bronx community organizer is spreading the wealth.
This weather forecaster shames deniers.
This chef takes a kitchen sink approach to food waste.
This civil servant cooks up smart food policy.
This architect designs better neighborhoods.
Avital Shavit and Rubina Ghazarian
These transportation gurus coax Angelenos onto bikes.
This lawyer connects justice and the environment.
Trisha Shrum and Jill Kubit
These mothers bring the future into the present.
This physicist is shaping energy policy.
This scientist connects investors to new food tech.
This CEO plants community solar gardens.
This professional trains people for solar jobs.
Cameron Russell's pick
Camila Thorndike and Page Atcheson
These activists want carbon polluters to pay.
This organizer is uniting millennials.
This New Yorker champions affordable housing.
This entrepreneur is making a better burger.
Sean A. Watkins
This storyteller puts people first.
This young climate activist is demanding more.
This strategist trains clean energy leaders.