by Cesca Janece Waterfield
Van Jones, Green-Collar Leader
Van Jones is one of the nation’s most vital minds today. As the civil rights and environmental activist calls for green economic development in urban America, he merges goals like providing jobs for the working class, with environmental needs, such as developing sources of clean energy. His vision often results in solutions that simultaneously address social inequity and environmental misuse.
He is founder of “Green for All,” an organization based in Oakland, CA that promotes clean energy as a means to improved health, better housing, and poverty relief. www.GreenForAll.org
In 1996, Van co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an organization that promotes alternatives to violence and incarceration. His familiar slogan, “green-collar jobs, not jails,” highlights his dual focus on social equity and environmental consciousness.
A Yale Law graduate, Van worked with U.S. Representatives from California and Massachusetts, Van helped create the Green Jobs Act of 2007. The Green Jobs Act earmarked $125 million for the purpose of training 35,000 people annually in “green-collar jobs.”
That same year, he helped the City of Oakland with a similar bid, and leaders there implemented “Green Jobs Corps” designed to train residents in “green-collar jobs.”
His book The Future’s Getting Restless is slated for release this year. He’s a co-founder and board member of 1Sky, a non-partisan national coalition working to reverse global warming, and he’s on the board of National Apollo Alliance, an organization that campaigns for clean energy jobs.
In more than a dozen years of activism, Van’s won many honors, including the Reebok International Human Rights Award in 1998. He was named a “Young Global Leader” by the World Economic Forum, and a “Next Generation Leader” by the Rockefeller Foundation, who granted him a Fellowship.
He attends dozens of grassroots events nationally each year, calling young people to a movement for change, and reminding them that each one of us is an agent for positive change.
Carolyn Finney, Making the Outdoors Inclusive
An Assistant Professor at Berkeley University, Carolyn Finney passionately highlights how what we see in magazines and other media influences our behavior. She’s even more enthusiastic about showing people how to re-frame stereotypes. Last year Finney finished her doctoral dissertation, “Black Faces, White Spaces: African Americans and the Great Outdoors.”
A key part of her research involved studying media across long periods of time. Finney believes that most images taken together create a culture that reinforces an idea that the wilderness is the province of whites only. Finney doesn’t claim that the effect is intentional, but her evidence for its existence is convincing. A review of ten years’ worth of issues of a major outdoors magazine showed that of 4,602 photographs, only 103 featured African Americans. The bulk of those were ads featuring famous athletes. Her study of ten years of travel brochures for Florida national parks showed a similar absence of black patrons.
Finney believes such unbalanced representation may influence African Americans to avoid taking part in environmental groups, working at national forests and parks, possibly even from outdoor recreation.
The good news is, she believes we have choices.
In an exclusive interview with Urban Views Weekly, Finney said, “The media has some degree of responsibility in terms of who they show and who they don’t show. I always like to use the example when Vanity Fair did their Green Issue. You had all these pictures of people that were predominantly white. You had maybe just a couple people of color in there. So the media has a large hand in shaping that.
But I also believe we all have agency. I think what regular people can do, is seek out things to read, seek out what’s going on in your community, and become interested. At the end of the day, instead of saying, ‘I don’t see myself there,’ ask yourself the question, ‘Why not?’ I’ve heard people say, ‘That’s not a black thing to do.’ I think that’s very limited. Why would you limit yourself? Support people who do try to put a different face on the environment. Whose stories can you read? Who can you support?”
Finney also emphasizes the range of activities available to people aiming to increase their engagement with the environment.
“Find out what’s going on. Find out what’s not being told about these places. It doesn’t just have to be in your community. We sit around and we often say it’s the job of organizations, but we have to remember these are people. They’re people like us who’ve been influenced by the media, by the information that we have,” she says.
Carolyn Finney has ties to our own region: Her parents are originally from Floyd, Virginia, and currently live in Leesburg.
MaVynee Betsch, Matriarch of the American Beach
With seven-foot long dreadlocks and an eclectic and colorful fashion sense, her appearance made her noticeable. Her conviction to the environment has made her memorable. MaVynee Oshun Betsch (1935-2005) was an environmental activist known as “The Beach Lady” for her tireless conservation efforts on behalf of the coastal environment. She also worked to educate the public about the cultural importance of African American history.
MaVynne was born into extraordinary wealth, the great-granddaughter of millionaire Abraham Lincoln Lewis who had established the Florida community Amelia Island. A resort area for wealthy blacks during segregation, MaVynee grew up on Amelia Island, with every imaginable privilege. She earned a music degree at Oberlin Conservatory before moving to Europe to be an opera singer. Her brother Johnny is also a musician, and currently lives in Paris where he’s a respected free jazz drummer. MaVynee’s sister is Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, the only woman to be president of both the nation’s all-female black colleges, Bennett College and Spelman College.
As an adult resident of American Beach, MaVynee led guided walking tours like no one else could, since she had grown up there, and represented its peak. She didn’t hold onto her wealth into her later years. Instead, she gave its bulk away to environmental groups as she labored to protect American Beach from commercial development.
As the official historian of American Beach, MaVynee worked to preserve her great-grandfather’s legacy from those who sought to trade American history for commerce. Thanks to MaVynee, a large sand dune at American Beach known as “Nana” was given nationally protected status. MaVynee died in the place she loved most; at American Beach, on September 5, 2005. She was honored by the Dalai Lama two months later.
John Francis spent more than two decades walking and sailing around the world to promote environmental preservation, particularly the cause of sustainability. For seventeen years, he maintained a vow of silence. The day after he began to speak again, he was struck by a car in Washington, D.C. but he recuperated and continued his work for social harmony and environmental awareness.
Audrey Peterman founded the black-oriented environmental group, Earthwise. Their mission statement: “…to increase awareness and involvement in enjoying and safeguarding our environment, particularly among underrepresented segments of America’s culturally diverse population…and linking urban communities to nearby nature…” She and her husband Frank are a dynamo of environmental activism. www.EarthwiseProductionsInc.com