Celebrate Black lives with us....
EcoWorks spends the month of February honoring and celebrating Black lives who have helped to shape and inspire us as an organization. While the federally designated Black History Month is a limited amount of time, we believe it is paramount to continue celebrating the African American experience year round. Here at EcoWorks, we are serious about achieving our mission and living our core values of justice, sustainability, and collaboration. We don’t believe it is possible to work towards these standards without true respect for the community that we are a part of and without recognizing that African American history is being made everyday in the city of Detroit. We look forward to celebrating and supporting Black futures year round.
Below, you can read short bios of four Black environmentalists and activists that inspire us.....
The Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.
REVEREND GEORGE LEE
(1903 - 1955)
Reverend George Lee of Belzoni, Mississippi was a civil rights activist, preacher, and a local NAACP official. Rev. Lee spent his life struggling against the Mississippi state constitution that prevented black residents from voting due to restrictive voter registration practices and harsh poll taxes. During this time, many southern states operated in a single-party structure and elections were typically administered in racially discriminatory practices. This vicious cycle continued throughout the late 19th century and into the mid-20th century.
As one of the first African Americans registered to vote in Humphreys County, Mississippi, Rev. Lee was enormously active in fighting racist voter suppression. He organized large movements and community meetings throughout Humphreys County to educate the black population on their rights and strategies to increase voter awareness. Out of the small printing press that he owned, he printed up large quantities of voting information leaflets, encouraged the payment of the poll tax, and to spread the word of getting out to register to vote.
Throughout his career, he was faced with incredible pressure, even death threats, from powerful, white local officials and residents. In 1955, at a massive voter registration rally in Mound Bayou, Rev. Lee motivated his audience to vote with the prospect of electing the first black congressman in Mississippi. Only two weeks later, George Lee was fatally shot in the head while driving home. Local authorities ruled that Rev. Lee had died in a traffic accident prompting an FBI investigation, but after a wane in support, no charges were ever brought against any suspect.
Despite the progress he made in his community, Rev. George Lee is also sadly remembered as one of the first martyrs of the civil rights movement of the 20th century. We want to recognize the Southern Poverty Law Center and designer Maya Lin for the creation of the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama that remembers the martyrs and history of the movement. Through our programs at EcoWorks, we aim to build on the significant progress made by the martyrs of the civil rights movement by encouraging community investment through education, activism and professional development.
LISA PEREZ JACKSON
(1962 - )
“Think about it: There was a time when I would have been forced to drink unsafe water from an inferior water fountain – because of my race. Now, I have the responsibility of ensuring that everyone drinks clean water – regardless of race.
Lisa Jackson, a trained chemical engineer, was born in Philadelphia, adopted at two weeks old, and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. In her youth, she took note of the unsafe waterways around her, polluted by local oil refineries and drilling ventures. She went on to gain a Bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Tulane University and a Master’s from Princeton.
Jackson began her career in the non-profit sector where she focused on environmental cleanup projects before being hired as a staff engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In 2002, she joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), later being appointed to the Commissioner of the DEP as the first African American woman to head a state environmental agency. Under her watch, in one of the worst-polluted states in the U.S. at the time, Jackson used a policy-driven approach to oversee the highest level protection of over 900 miles of waterways, encouraged environmentally-conscious economic growth, and made New Jersey the third state in the country to pass global warming legislation that required steep emissions reductions.
By early 2009, Jackson had been appointed by President Barack Obama to the top-level position of EPA Administrator, and was the first African American to hold that position. She continued to shape policy in the country, most notably leading the charge to declare that greenhouse gases were a danger to public health. This stance would carry heavier weight and lead to tougher national regulations on emissions. As she put it, “… much of the world looks to the EPA to set the standard – the highest standard – for what it means to protect and preserve our air, water and land.” Currently, Jackson holds the position as Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, a job that calls for promoting environmentally-sound practices for the tech giant.
Lisa Jackson’s mission to actively seek change through education and influencing policy inspires us at EcoWorks to raise awareness and to advocate for better environmental practices. We share her belief that everyone has the right to a higher understanding of the environment regardless of race, socioeconomic status, gender, or age, and it motivates us to continue our work within our community.
“I am deeply interested and engaged in activities and projects that change human and social behavior in the direction of peace and reconciliation — locally, nationally and internationally.”
Ron Scott, a political and social activist, was born in the heart of the African-American community of Detroit. Born in Detroit’s Black Bottom before urban “renewal” destroyed the community, he and his family were later forced to relocate to the Jeffries Projects. Growing up, Ron Scott experienced the challenges faced by the Black community first hand and these experiences inspired him to live a life of action.
A self-proclaimed “transformational anthropologist,” Ron Scott embodied justice by living for the people and using his observations and experiences as a catalyst for action. Prior to the implementation of Affirmative Action policies, Scott was accepted to the University of Michigan and, shortly thereafter, became a co-founding member of the Black Panther Party’s Detroit chapter. He led a career as a journalist, political consultant, and media strategist. At the cornerstone of his career, he founded the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality in 1995 that organized implacable opposition to racist, abusive, and brutal police practices in Detroit. He later went on to sit on the board of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and the Detroit & Michigan Chapters of the National Lawyers Guild. The NLG remembered Ron Scott as “always there… whenever citizens of southeast Michigan mobilized to demand an end to racist practices; to demand improved working conditions; to demand improved government services; or improved public education.”
At EcoWorks, we believe a vision of deep, just, and comprehensive sustainability means that we must also address issues of race, economic justice, education, housing, and other issues that affect the communities we serve. We must work and care for the whole, as Ron Scott did for the Detroit community. His work reminds us at EcoWorks that silence is only another form of inaction and complacency.
GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER
(1860?-January 5, 1943)
"Education is the key to open the golden door of freedom."
"Where there is no vision, there is no hope."
George Washington Carver, an American botanist and inventor, was born into Slavery in Missouri and raised by the German-American immigrants who purchased his mother. Despite multiple barriers, Carver managed to get a high school education and later became the first Black student to attend Iowa State Agricultural College where he received a Bachelor's and a Master's degree. A visionary ahead of his time, Carver dreamed of sustainable agriculture and bioproducts, experimenting with biofuels and organic farming throughout his career.
Although Carver is known by many as the “peanut guy”, it is said that Carver invented over 300 uses for crops including soybeans, sweet-potatoes and pecans. He dedicated his life's work to the livelihood of impoverished, emancipated slaves, teaching them techniques to be self-sufficient, sustainable farmers.
Despite multiple requests to permanently relocate by various individuals offering large amounts of money, Carver remained committed to his community in Tuskegee, Alabama. Henry Ford, who thought Carver a valuable friend and partner, sought Carver out to research and develop biofuels and other bioproducts for his world renowned vehicles. George Washington Carver’s dedication and passion for building a strong, sustainable community in Tuskegee inspires us at EcoWorks and the work we do in Detroit, from education programs like the Youth Energy Squad and Residential Education to supporting sustainable development with our Eco-D initiative.