Angelou Ezeilo is Greening Youth

I met Angelou last year at the Breaking the Color Barrier Conference, although I got to know her better recently during our time in Washington DC last month.

Angelou’s work as Executive Director of Greening Youth Foundation is changing the world. I hope you will enjoy getting to know her as much as I did!
What experiences did you have as a youth that influenced how you view and protect natural spaces today?
Although I grew up in the densely populated concrete streets of Jersey City, New Jersey; I spent every summer of my childhood exploring 45 acres of my parent’s property in upstate New York.  I remember the excitement of packing our van for the 9 hour trip to the house that became our home for 4 weeks out of the summer.  In addition to being fascinated by the unusually large road kill that we encountered on the road, I remember stopping at various parks and cool vistas along the way all in anticipation of a carefree, super fun experience with my siblings and summer friends.  During my summer stay, I became intimately acquainted with all sorts of insects, amphibians, nocturnal species, reptiles and lots of fruit picked straight out of the trees.  No one could tell me that this wasn’t my slice of heaven.  I am sure that these experiences shaped who I am today and why I pursued a career in conservation.  I am on a journey now to make sure all children have access to connect with nature.  I believe they are all budding environmental leaders waiting for an opportunity.
What brought forth Greening Youth Foundation?
Greening Youth Foundation was birthed because of a disconnect I saw between land being preserved and the community surrounding the land- particularly children.  Although my background is in law, I worked for quite a few years as a project manager for The Trust for Public Land (TPL).  TPL continues to do amazing work in protecting public places for people; however, I saw a disconnect between the communities that were being directly impacted/affected by the preservation work.  In most cases, the surrounding community would ultimately benefit from the preservation work.  However, often times communities weren’t always engaged at the embryonic stages of a project so that their voices are not only heard but utilized.  I realized that  children could play a pivotal role in the development of some of the work being done.  The above referenced experiences were the impetus for Greening Youth, LLC., and Greening Youth Foundation (GYF).  Greening Youth, LLC is a greenspace project management for-profit company that works with municipalities, counties and non-profit organizations to engage communities, acquire land and manage all due diligence involved with conservation projects.  GYF is the non-profit sister organization that connects underserved youth to the outdoors and gives them access to careers in conservation.  It is the goal of both companies to engage communities and expose them the transforming beauty and opportunities that exist in the conservation world.
Why should African American families care about being “green” and engaging with natural spaces?
It is critical that African-Americans care about the environmental because they are inextricably  connected to the environment and the effects of irresponsible decisions.  When I speak to students and I notice that some of the teenagers are rolling their eyes and wondering “what does this have to do with ME?”  I immediately ask them how many of them know someone with asthma, diabetes, autism, or are overweight?  After I explain how each of these illnesses that are plaguing African-American communities have been linked to environmental factors, I get their attention.  If you care about the air, water, land and the food that you eat, then you should care about being green.
How can people plug in to opportunities to get involved where they live?
There are many opportunities for people to get involved and make a difference.  Often times people feel overwhelmed when trying to figure out what they can do, but it really should not be a scary project.  No project is too small.  Fortunately, there are plenty of grass roots organizations in every state that are working to make the planet a healthier place to live.  GYF offers plenty of volunteer opportunities through its Youth Corps and with some of our annual projects in Atlanta.  There are Keep America Beautiful affiliate offices in every state that offer opportunities.  Local Girl Scout and Boy Scout organizations also provide opportunities.  You have to be willing to take a moment out of your time to look – opportunities abound.
How will GYF change the world?
GYF will change the world one child at a time!  For the upcoming 2010-2011 school year, through GYF’s Public School Initiative we will impact approximately 9,500 students.  Additionally, through a partnership with the Department of the Interior, National Park Service our Youth Corps are working on projects, internships and youth crews in national parks across the country.  GYF is also effecting change by partnering with some of the big conservation organizations, like The Wilderness Society to establish a fellowship program so that young adults will be provided hands-on experience and the prospect of a job.  GYF is excited about the continuum of engaging a student in elementary school through high school, providing internship opportunities while in college and fellowship  placement upon graduation.
GYF is also working to change the face of the conservation movement through its reality show, Green The Nu Black….stay tuned.
Changing social behavior one child at a time…we can make a difference!