Find the latest news and updates from EcoWorks.
In collaboration with Detroit Future City, EcoWorks is excited to release our Green Alleys Report, highlighting the use and benefits of green infrastructure, green infrastructure projects around the City of Detroit and stormwater management. To access the report, just click on the image above.
Detroit International Academy Student Reflects on Her Time in YES
Mahmuda Chowdhury is a senior at Detroit’s International Academy for Young Women (DIA). Her love for community service and social justice led her to YES during her junior year at DIA. “I was just sticking around after school and I came into this classroom where the YES program was talking about environmental justice and that’s how I first met Erada.” Mahmuda is no stranger to community service. She has served in several leadership roles including DIA’s Student Council President, Student Government President, Volleyball, National Honors Society, National Technical Honor’s Society, and founding member of DIA’s Thirst Project Chapter, a global youth initiative aimed at developing infrastructure for countries in need of safe drinking water. Mahmuda continued in her growth, getting involved in her school’s green team. “I remember Erada talking so much about Flint and what happened with the water crisis there. I was really interested so I started attending more of the meetings, and the meetings themselves were more conversational than a traditional class.” While Chowdhury did take interest in learning about the Flint Water Crisis, she experienced a shock in learning more about the water crisis in her own hometown of Detroit. During her YES Green Team sessions, topics such as Detroit water shutoffs and resulting public health issues didn’t sit well with Chowdhury. “Honestly, it was upsetting to me that all of this was happening in my
community and I didn’t know.” Motivated by her desire to learn more, Mahmuda applied and later accepted an invitation to join the YES Sustainability Leadership Program (SLI). The COVID-19 global pandemic followed shortly after the start of her SLI cohort, forcing the program to move online. Despite this, Mahmuda felt well connected to other participants in the program. “In relation to environmental justice I learned a lot, but I also learned [a lot] about myself. I first thought I wanted to go into business, but then I started learning more about how the environment impacts health.” Chowdhury is now preparing to graduate from DIA and go to the University of Michigan where she plans to major in Public Health with a minor in Environmental Science. Chowdhury is also the recipient of two scholarships – the Horatio Alger State Scholarship & Detroit Pistons Rick Mahorn Scholarship, both will help her pay for her schooling. When reflecting on her time with YES, she notes the helpfulness of the program’s professional development focus. “When I apply to internships, I will have research, professional communication, and presentation skills that will help. The program was really good to me.”
Q+A With Davis Aerospace Tech High School Science Teacher and YES Collaborator Kimberly Stevenson
Kimberly Stevenson, of Davis Aerospace Tech High School, is currently on the Board of Directors for the National Metropolitan Science Teachers Association, and has been a long- time teacher partner with YES. She is presently a vital member of the program’s STEM 2035 cohort, exercising STEM-based project learning focused on career development. Our YES Green School Coordinators had a chance to talk with Stevenson on her passions in environmental justice, her work with YES, and her plans for the future of sustainability at Davis Aerospace. Check out her interview below.
Q: Why did you want to be a science teacher?
A: To me, it was the one discipline that was the most diverse; it was fun. It changed over time, and I felt like it was where I could be the most beneficial to my students.
Q: Why did you want to partner with the Youth Energy Squad, and what do you think our group provides/does for/with students?
A: I think it takes the classroom and makes it more practical because we have real global issues, but I notice that our curriculum doesn't really
spend a lot of time with current events and real-world problems and issues. And I feel like STEM 2035 brings that element into the classroom, or should I just say to my students.
Q: How do you talk to your peers about sustainability and climate change?
A: Before Covid hit, we actually had a green team, where I would have students go two by two to the different teachers and classrooms, and they would right around the breaks (Easter break, Christmas break, Thanksgiving break) we taught them to make sure that anything to do with pipes and water was turned off tightly. We had them unplug and disconnect their power stripes and turn off anything that used electricity or power. And the students actually went to the teachers in pairs and explained everything. And the teachers were really accepting of them, so it just helps over the breaks, particularly to save energy.
We also did some activities for Earth Day, which is coming up next month. We had our art students draw a big poster about Earth Day, which was important to do. We had set up a table with pamphlets and information about it regarding reduce, reuse and recycle, renewable energy, whatever they came up with. We tried for that day, to give teachers and students an opportunity to see why it's important to take care of our resources at this point and what part we can do to make that happen.
Q: How do you talk to other teachers about saving energy and being aware of how we should really be taking care of our Earth?
A: When I speak to my colleagues, for the most part, it is while I am making a school announcement. I know during Earth Day, we actually had an Earth month or Earth week, and so each day, I might come on during the announcements and say there might be an issue about conserving food and making sure you don't waste food. And then the following week will be about wasting or saving energy and finding ways to do that. The following week might be about the importance of recycling. It's not a lot of one-on-one; I just know in April/Earth Month that we just hit many issues during time with my colleagues.
Q: In all of this green sustainability, what are you most passionate about? What subjects?
A: Since I have taught so many environmental issues, I would really like to see a transition into renewable energy. Like wind, sun, hydropower, I have always wanted Davis Aerospace to be the first school that is fully run by solar energy. I want to get panels out there.
And I know a few people, there is a school, I think West Bloomfield High, there is a physics teacher that actually did it. But what he did, he has the whole science department completely run by solar energy. So he had the kids build the panels, he had the kids put the panels out, and they did all the research on it. He actually made it happen.
And when he did it, I was like well maybe we can be the first school in DPS to make that happen. But then there was like training and certain information that I really needed help to be guided in that direction. And I really didn't know enough about it to make it happen, but that's what I am passionate about. If that can happen that we are the first school that's fully run by solar energy or any other renewable energy source. I think that would be great.
Detroit International Academy Student Habiba Khatun Completes Youth Civil Rights Academy's Social Justice Fellowship with University of Michigan
Habiba Khatun, a senior at Detroit International Academy (DIA), has a deep passion for water justice and public health. As a student at DIA Habiba has been involved in numerous school leadership and afterschool programs, including her role as a member of DIA’s green team, working with former AmeriCorps Green School Coordinators Jayme Ham and Erada Oleita. Habiba was able to work on her passion with the recent completion of her Social Justice Fellowship via the University of Michigan’s Youth Civil Rights Academy. Joining other youth from across the southeast Michigan region for the fellowship, Habiba came together with the YES team to create a 5-minute video titled “A Demand for Water during COVID-19.”
In this video, Habiba addresses the lack of access to drinking water in the City of Detroit during the COVID-19 pandemic. When thinking about the most pressing issues of our time, Habiba felt none was more important than water. “I’ve seen a lot of issues people are facing in this country due to lack of water, and people aren’t taking enough action to address water access.” Desiring to see more people in her community informed of water issues, Khatun feels like her social justice project with the University of Michigan can help shape people’s perspective on water access. “I think
people will see my video and be more informed, and people will move to take action.” Habiba’s video takes both an informative and serious tone, as she shares the personal story of a family friend whose water was shut off during the pandemic and was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19.
This experience stressed for Habiba the importance of having access to clean & safe drinking water for Detroiters as a matter of public health. “I was doing some research and learned so much about how a lot of diseases are waterborne, and just became really interested in what we can do to prevent it.” Habiba is now preparing to graduate from Detroit Public Schools Community District and go on to enroll at Wayne State University after being accepted into the Honors College, where she will major in Biology. At just 18 years old, Habiba’s future is bright as she plans to attend medical school and become a physician, citing her learnings about environmental health as an inspiration. “This is what motivated me to study medicine. I want to tell my peers to get involved in their community and stay informed of what’s happening.”
The EcoWorks Soil Lead Project with YES Coordinator Ela Ratajczyk
The Soil Lead Project is an ongoing study conducted by Ecoworks that creates strategies to lower lead transfer because there is no safe level of lead in the body. Children and adults can be exposed to lead in the soil by accidentally ingesting or inhaling soil particles that contain lead from maintaining and consuming garden crops and socializing around the soil. Lead accumulates in the bones and can cause permanent damage to the brain and nervous system.
This project aims to identify methods to reduce the risk of exposure to lead in residential soils and determine a low-cost approach that will make the lead in soil biologically inaccessible upon exposure. Participants in the study own property in Detroit, Hamtramck, or Highland Park and receive confidential lead testing and soil treatments by the Ecoworks research team. After completing the project, participants receive their test results and are given personalized action plans to minimize further risks associated with lead contamination in soil.
Ela Ratajczyk, a Youth Energy Squad Coordinator, recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences. In the first few months of her time with YES, Ratajczyk was looking for opportunities to apply what she learned in college to further the EcoWorks mission. That’s when she met the Soil Lead Project leader, Allison Harris.
“I took classes studying earth processes and soil and things like that so I got to go out and do soil tests but … I heard Allison Harris [talking] at an All-Staff Meeting about her project...She said ‘soil’ and she said ‘metals’ and I said ‘I’m all about that!’”
Instead of gathering data and abandoning field sites, the Soil Lead Project emphasizes the importance of working with the site owners to make sure that they receive all test results at the close of the project for the sake of public and personal health. Ratajczyk said she experienced this first hand while collecting samples and engaging with the community.
“[Community input and health] is a really integral part of the project in general. When we were on the field sites taking samples, the biggest thing for the project was community rapport because we want to keep benefiting the community.”
Looking forward, Ratajczyk said she hopes to merge her work with the Soil Lead Project and the Youth Energy Squad, empowering local students to engage with the study’s data and help reduce lead exposure in the community.
“The next step is we want to have youth involvement … [and] teaching people what could be causing lead poisoning and ways to prevent it.”
Celebrating Black History Month with Executive Director, Bryan Lewis
EcoWorks' Executive Director, Bryan Lewis, reflects on the importance of Black History Month and its connection to environmental justice.
Q: What does Black History Month mean to you?
A: Black history is omnipresent. It is the food we eat, the way we talk, it’s how we connect with one another without saying a word; it’s the creativity, it’s the music we create and the way it makes us move; it’s the joy, it’s the beauty, it’s the struggle, and it’s the way we carry it all. Black history is global and it is connected. It’s my history - and yours too.
And so, for me, Black History Month is about intentionally celebrating Black People and Blackness. My hope is that through uplifting the Black experience in such an intentional way, the black child who is still learning to love themselves and their skin will begin to walk more boldly in their power.
Q: Is there anything specific to this Black History Month that you're reflecting on?
A: It was summer 2019. I and a number of students from our YES Summer Leadership program were excited to get our first real life look at Barack and Michelle Obama’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
in Washington, DC. I mean, there are plenty of portraits in the National Gallery - but for our students, only those mattered.
Kamiri - one of our students - and I pushed our way through the crowd to get the best view of “Momma Michelle”. When we got to the front, Kamiri marveled at the beauty of the former First Lady’s portrait - but he also noticed another. Overlooking Michelle Obama was none other than Toni Morrison, one of the most prolific writers in history and a Black woman. Unaware of this, Kamiri asked “who is that?” The world paused as Kamiri and I discussed her life and impact.
Later that summer, Toni Morrison passed. And while I mourned the loss of an icon and Black vanguard, I cherished the opportunity to bring my experience with Kamiri full circle. I’m reflecting now on how amazing it is that Morrison’s simple existence could spark such curiosity in a young mind. When the life you’ve lived carries so much power, that even after you’re long gone, some Black child who you’ve never met will look into you and find something deeper within themselves.
Q: Any thoughts on how to better center Black history and Black culture in sustainability? In policy? In community change?
A: Everything is interconnected. Racial Justice is Environmental Justice and Environmental Justice is what keeps a community sustainable. I think we need to start, first, to build that understanding and contextualize it with the stories and experiences of Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples on the frontline and fenceline. The goal is to own our narrative.
The simple fact is that if we center Black people we will center Black history. Pass the mic.
YES Coordinator Tamera Middlebrooks Named One of
"20 Black Detroiters Making History"
Tamera Middlebrooks may be new to the Youth Energy Squad team but she is nowhere near new to activism and helping to organize her community. Oftentimes, this kind of work is beyond crucial but goes without commendation, although that’s never the end goal. The Skillman Foundation, a private philanthropy in Detroit that works to elevate youth voices in the city, recognized this lack of praise for young changemakers in the city and named Middlebrooks as one of the 20 Black Detroiters Making History. In an interview with fellow YES Coordinator Vashti Armstrong, Middlebrooks walks through her journey to where she is now, what drives her, and even graces us with some of her essential reading.
Q: So how did you find out about the award? What was that moment like?
A: It was at the end of the staff meeting and Latia was like, “Oh there’s a surprise” and I’m just like, oh nothing to do with me. “Oh no, actually Tamera is one of the people chosen for this award” and I’m just like, I had no idea I was even nominated. So I was just really surprised but really happy. It’s nice to be recognized for the things you do. It was a good feeling.
Q: Can you tell us more about your work with the Mamma Lila Youth Civic Engagement Fellowship?
A: That was a fellowship for Rashida Tlaib’s office to help with her reelection campaign this past summer, we did work around that with the primary. It was also environmental justice geared so we would talk about water access, air quality in Detroit, and stuff like that. Most of the people were in university, I don’t think there were many high schoolers and there were some people in the program that I knew who do this kind of work, who do voter engagement, climate justice, things like that.
Q: Are there any lessons you learned from the Fellowship that you’re bringing to your work with the Youth Energy Squad?
A: The major thing was more awareness about the climate issues in our communities. Some people might live in neighborhoods where their neighbors don’t have access to running water and things like that. You don’t know what people in your direct community are going through so an emphasis on being more engaged and involved in what people around you really need help with.
Q: You went to Cass Tech, you were a founding member of Detroit Area Youth Uniting Michigan (DAYUM), and you guys did a lot of things with voter registration but what I really wanna know is how did this start? What fuels the fire? What’s the passion behind all of this?
A: I hate giving monologues but this is a safe space. It started back when I was around 12, the first wake up call for injustice was Trayvon Martin’s murder. That was my major wake-up call about the reality of being Black in America and the definition of justice here and then it kind of spiraled. I spent a lot of time on social media and I followed a lot of people my age who were doing this work around racial justice, climate justice, and gender equality and I was like “Oh my God, I don’t know anything about any of this stuff, they’re so advanced and smart” and I would spend all my time researching and learning from them and at that time period, I was a really shy quiet person, I didn’t really speak up about much but as the years went on I just got more comfortable being more vocal about stuff and when I was 18, that’s when I co-founded DAYUM cause we did the March For Our Lives Detroit and that was one of my first big organizing things that I’d planned and that’s when my activist career started, just doing March For Our Lives and then going into DAYUM and doing all of that stuff.
Q: Who are your peers or your influential figures who you talk to? Who you bounce ideas off of?
A: There’s another org I’m a part of called March for Black Women Detroit and my sister, she’s two years older than me and she was the founder and she brought me in with her so I like to bounce ideas off of her cause she and I are like in a similar age group and we have a lot of same views on stuff. There’s two other girls that we’re in the org with and they’re progressive and radical and super cool so I always wanna talk to them.
Q: For me, as a Black person, to always tough look at the TV or engage with what’s happening around, there’s always trauma. It’s hard to engage and keep looking. I’m sure you have instances where it gets to be too much so what do you do to refuel?
A: I really do like meditation. I like to go on YouTube and look up those frequencies and sound bowls to listen to, I love those. Also my nails aren’t done right now but I love manicures. It’s just so relaxing and gives me something else to focus on.
Q: What were you reading that got you here?
A: Black Queer women were the main people I was listening to like I would read Angela Davis, her book “Are Prisons Obsolete?”. There are just some Black women that are activists who do freelance writing. They aren’t famous but their teachings are really helpful. I’d also recommend “The Autobiography of Malcolm X”, “The Autobiography of Assata Shakur”, “The Combahee River Collective Statement”, and “Letter From a Birmingham Jail”.
Q: Do you like Audre Lorde?
A: I love her.
Q: Do you have any advice for young people?
A: For one, reminding them that you’re not too young to make a difference because people look down on youth organizers but there are some young people who are more progressive and active than some adults so they shouldn't be discouraged. They should always be open to their politics changing. You don’t have to have one set of views for one time. It’s actually really good if your views do change as you learn or grow over time.
Q: With all the work that you have done as a youth, I am curious about how you grew up. Where did your activism start and where did your parents fit in?
A: Sometimes there are interesting debates in my family because my parents are old. My dad is 60 so some of his views are a little outdated and my mom is more progressive than my dad is. They are both really politically aware, when I was younger they would always watch the news and keep up with current events. They wouldn't shy away from talking about racism and all that stuff. I feel like that laid the groundwork for me.
Q: Because your parents were politically aware and they had these very needed discussions as necessary while you were growing up, how did that translate to them allowing you to express this publicly? How did they embrace this growth in you?
A: My parents are both very loud opinionated people and I am always the exact opposite; shy and quiet, so they were pretty happy to finally see me coming out of my shell a little bit. They have always encouraged that, it's the mindset that, if you see something, say something. If you know something is wrong you should be doing something about it. So they were really happy that I found my voice a little bit.
Q: What is your involvement in pro-Black women activism?
A: For Black women specifically, my work with March for Black Women Detroit is my favorite because it centers entirely on Black women. We recently did a care package project, where we just collected sanitary products and hygiene stuff for women living in shelters. On our social media we post things that are really uplifting and positive to be that extra support for and creating a safe space for us.
Q: Are there any men involved?
A: No, it's just four black women. The space when it's all women is just safer and warmer. A space where we can all look out for one another.
Q: What about Anti-Racism work? How are you involved in that?
A: Anti-Racism is in the heart of everything I do, whether it’s environmental justice or gender equality. You have to look at it through an anit-racist lens, even we I do stuff in water justice I look at it through environmental racism. How is a Black community being impacted by this versus a white one? Or with March for Black Women, you look at it with a Black feminist lens because white feminism is its own thing, so we have to look at it as how are Black women specifially being impacted by certain things. The impact is different for us.
The Chip Bag Project
"Bridging sustainability with social justice by creating sleeping bags out of foil-lined chip bags"
The Chip Bag Project’s founder, Eradajere Oleita, has worked on various projects catered to enhancing the quality of life for the home-free of Detroit since delving into community organizing in 2016 with her work with the Youth Energy Squad growing the next green gen in Detroit, but as she articulated on December 17th , 2020 on Fox News, “…this one here is really close to home,” as it combines her commitment to sustainability with her love for community seamlessly.
The cold, wet, winter weather is upon us and getting worse for those who have access to warm beds, but just imagine living amongst it nearly 24 hours a day, for 7 days a week, especially with the current pandemic sanctioning shelters, and other resources, to not be able to function at their full capacity. For just one chip bag donated, you could be part of changing the quality of one’s living situation greatly. The Chip Bag Project is also accepting donations such as winter coats, socks, gloves, hats, umbrellas, shoes, and more. All donations can be shipped to P.O Box: 13426 Schaefer Hwy #27258 Detroit, MI 48227 or visit eradaoleita.com for drop off locations. Thank you for your support in advance!
The Chip Bag Project is collecting a goal of 10,000 chip bags (or monetary donations) in order to create sleeping bags for the home-free of Detroit, MI.
Other donations such as winter coats, socks, gloves, hats, etc. are welcomed
All donations can be shipped to P.O Box: 13426 Schaefer Hwy #27258 Detroit, MI 48227
The Chip Bag Project, founded and spearheaded by Eradajere Oleita, is excited to announce its commitment to providing increased comfort to the home-free of Detroit, MI. All winter, The Chip Bag Project will be seeking and accepting chip bag (or monetary) donations in efforts to reach, or exceed, their goal of creating 60 sleeping bags for the home-free population which will take a total of 10,000 chip bags.
Why chip bags? Science has shown chip bags to not only be great insulators but also durable and lightweight making them easy to travel with from place to place when one has
access to limited transportation resources. Each chip bag will be retrofitted with foam, and increased insulation, to transform them into cozy, sustainable, inexpensive, sleeping bags.
YES Coordinator Keem King Appointed to Young Black Climate Leaders Initiative
Anyone who has ever met Keem King knows his energy is infectious. Whether he’s leading a workshop on food justice as a Youth Energy Squad Coordinator or working at a community garden, King’s dedication to climate justice and making his community resilient to climate change is beyond admirable. Now, as a member of the Young Black Climate Leaders Initiative, a nationwide organization that brings together Black voices in the environmental justice movement, King hopes to bring his new connections and resources back to his work in Detroit.
EcoWorks: What is the mission of the Young Black Climate Leaders Initiative?
King: The mission is to do work around climate change, climate resiliency, climate justice as a Black person. A lot of times in this work, we see a lot of white people or not that much Black representation where a lot of people don’t see climate change as a social justice issue and as a racial issue as well. This Initiative is taking a stand as a Black person to become a hub for other Black people to gravitate towards to do their climate work as Black people and understand that this is not just environmental work. It connects back to our ancestors, it connects to the
future of our children, and it connects to our purpose in being here now. We’re fighting for the Earth but also fighting injustice for yourself at the same time.
EcoWorks: What are your goals as a member of the Initiative?
King: Specifically I want to expand the Redzone Garden to make it a Red Zone Farm and also have green space with a water catchment system so we don’t depend on city water. I also want to start Redzone University. In this green space, there’s grass chairs, there’s natural earth seating where people can sit and other people from the community could come and host different classrooms so they could be teaching different things about sustainability. That way we can be sharing knowledge within the community and have a place to do it and not have to worry about how long the building is gonna be up.
EcoWorks: How is being in the Initiative going to help you realize those goals?
King: There’s a curriculum that helps me come up with the strategies to do that. There’s also different information about how planting works. They’re giving me political strategy so another part of one of my goals in expanding the garden to the farm is to promote food sovereignty and have a small group of people within the community so I don’t have to always be there to create this connected system of compost … So the Initiative is giving me the tools to be able to build that network and team of people. I’m always good at organizing stuff like I could get everyone excited to clean up the street one time but I don’t think I have the skills to create a program where the people in the community would want to do that and there would be a schedule so the community stays clean. I’m the guy that’ll clean it up super good one day then watch it get dirty again over time.
EcoWorks: What are the next steps as a cohort of young Black climate leaders?
King: We’ve been having these weekly sessions every Wednesday where we take time to grow together, to understand each other, understand each other’s goals and we have professional development sessions. They send out a lot of information in the mail like books and different resources. The next step is to keep working through these resources individually and we’re gonna build our own networks within our respective cities or regions and I think that is gonna all come together for this nationwide project. It’s all a part of the same project.
EcoWorks: Do you have any final comments on the Initiative and your goals?
King: Any work on this planet that involves people of color and climate justice should have me involved in it.