By FELICIA GOTTHELF
Now that range rovers are SUVs, not bison, the environmental movement has a different truth to speak than it did when it was founded. Identifying with a younger generation's landscape has been a challenge for—and will be the lifeblood of—the Sierra Club.
The Club showed its intergenerational appeal at the Clean Air Celebration in Minneapolis this spring. Co-hosted by the NAACP and the Club's North Star Chapter, audience members got down with the cause with the groups Get Your Green Team and Climate Change Crew. By laying down beats and lines, these groups embody the power that youth have to speak truth and represent.
Pictured above at the Clean Air Celebration are Sierra Club Environmental Justice Director Leslie Fields, North Star Chapter Director Margaret Levin, and U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison of Minneapolis. Below, a youth representative of the Climate Change Crew introduces the video, Change Is Needed, that won the 2010 Dream Reborn contest sponsored by Green For All, a national organization working to build an inclusive green economy.
Photo by Les Barry
The Minneapolis group Get Your Green Team kicked off the Clean Air Celebration by presenting four songs from this new generation of conscious hip hop. After turning out for this event to rep the Sierra Club and pimp green collar jobs, Get Your Green Team, below, continued their artistic activism through a social media blitz. In response to the House passing the Dirty Coal bill, the team used Facebook and other social media sites to post their green message, sharing lyrics like "My little cousin got asthma. We ain't doin nothin but killin her fasta." Listen to Get Your Green Team's music and an interview with Majora Carter on Studio 4 All Access Radio.
The Climate Change Crew, below, mesmerizing with their lyrical flow, is the artistic embodiment of a serious journey for this group of Minneapolis-St. Paul high school students. At the Clean Air Celebration, CCC talked about their life after Change is Needed won the 2010 Green For All Dream Reborn award.
Two members of the CCC are going on to become urban farmers. Another is going to school for public relations and environmental studies. As they went around the room sharing their stories, it became clear that what began as an after-school science program has shaped the path these kids will take—that they are the new faces of the environmental movement. Below, an image from Change Is Needed, featuring a photo of Keith Ellison.
The Clean Air Celebration provided opportunities other than through rap to engage the youth voice. During a panel discussion with Ellison and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Paul Aasen, two of these Minneapolis youth got to practice using their work mouths. They discussed projects they are undertaking to address clean air, and how science and green jobs can be pathways out of poverty. The result of this discourse? Several days after the panel discussion, Aasen's staff contacted a Sierra Club community organizer to set up additional meetings.
Other speakers at the event included Minneapolis NAACP President Booker Hodges. Continuing the tradition of bringing in speakers who do similar work in other communities, the keynote address was given by Vernice Miller-Travis, Vice Chair of the Maryland State Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities, who learned about environmental justice through her involvement with the civil rights movement. Her story of fighting for clean air in her West Harlem community resonated with the Minnesota audience, which afterwards broke out into round table discussions about clean air issues.
Photo by Les Barry
The unflagging enthusiasm of youth was seen after the panel as well, when 100 people held a honk-n-wave in the pouring rain. They stood at a busy intersection and cheered until their handmade signs disintegrated in the downpour. Says Sierra Club organizer Michelle Rosier, "This event is always good for re-inspiring." As Get Your Green Team raps, "Life is full of hope—all you gotta do is believe, do some deeds, join the team with me and come get your green."