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As green goes global, minorities get in game

Talia Whyte

From the hybrid automobiles that now line city streets to the growing number of rooftop gardens dotting structures, “going green” seems to have moved from buzzword of the moment to everyday reality. While the environmental movement has long been viewed as an exclusive club for privileged whites, a number of events in recent years have highlighted the growing multicultural leadership within its ranks.

Of the $787 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding that President Barack Obama signed into law earlier this year, $75 billion is earmarked to help American businesses fuel “green jobs,” which can range from wind energy development on the West Coast to controlling air and water quality and asbestos elimination in urban areas. First lady Michelle Obama got in on the act, too. She broke ground on the Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn of the White House, introducing a host of Americans to the principles of sustainable gardening and the benefits of healthier foods.

On Sept. 11, the Obamas will participate in a National Service Day led by national nonprofits Green for All and the Hip Hop Caucus to mobilize communities of color to work in support of a “clean-energy economy” — generating jobs and revenues through efforts to address issues related to climate change.

Joining them will be Van Jones, a special advisor on green jobs for the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the first African American author to write an environmental book that cracked The New York Times best-seller list. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, who made history this year when she became the first black person to hold that position, will also be there.

Locally, environmental justice activists are working to recruit Bostonians for the green movement. This weekend, City Hall Plaza will host the second annual Boston Greenfest, a collection of performances and workshops being billed as the city’s largest-ever effort to teach residents how they can (and why they should) reduce their carbon footprint.

Karen Weber, the festival’s chairwoman, said that there is a bigger push this year to reach out to communities of color.

“We believe that the message of greening needs to reach all communities,” Weber said. “For too long, many groups of people have not felt like they could be part of this movement, but now there is a chance to change that message to show inclusiveness.”

Discussions on how to create green jobs in the city will be central to the festival. On Thursday morning, organizers will host an invitation-only green business breakfast; the following morning, a green jobs seminar at City Hall will be open to the public. The talks are meant to help educate local business owners on how to implement more environmentally sustainable practices.

Dorchester resident Tito Jackson said he has made “creating great jobs for great people” a priority in the five-point platform he’s pushing as a candidate for an at-large seat on Boston’s City Council. Many of those jobs, he added, will have to be created in the burgeoning green economy.

As he mounts his council bid, Jackson is on leave from his role as industry director for information technology in the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. He also mentors youth interested in pursuing careers in science and technology.

Jackson said he envisions new green jobs coming in both the technology sector and the traditional blue-collar economy.

“Bringing economic development to the city is important at this moment,” he said. “We have an opportunity to grow the local economy while supporting sustainability at the same time.”

Scotland Willis is also running for an at-large council seat on a green platform. As a senior partner at the consulting firm The Lyceum Group, Willis works on issues related to corporate sustainability and bringing green jobs to underserved communities. He also co-chairs the Urban Massachusetts Green Alliance, and founded the Green Constitution Project.

Growing up on his family’s farm in South Carolina, Willis said he learned that being green is a way of life. He got rid of his car a few years ago, and now uses his bike and public transit as his main modes of transportation. He also keeps a tomato garden in the backyard of his Fort Hill home.

“If we want to get serious about the environment, we need to change our behavior to support it,” Willis said.

Many environmental justice activists, like Greenfest Associate Director Raking Williams, note another key to getting serious: enlisting the help of people from all racial and economic backgrounds.

“We are the new founding fathers of this movement,” he said. “We all come in different shades of green.”