This May, I had the opportunity to attend the Good Jobs Green Jobs Regional Midwest Conference in Detroit, Michigan. It is hosted by Blue Green Alliance, which is a coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations working to build “a cleaner, fairer and more competitive American economy."
The conference was a testament to the innovative and exciting work happening here in the Midwest to grow the green economy and offer solutions to our current job crisis. In the “Motor City,” the auto industry is making more fuel-efficient vehicles and communities are solving basic economic and human problems collectively. Across the region, people are manufacturing wind turbines, installing solar panels, and developing greener, safer chemicals and products, transforming both industries and communities.
The opportunities for green jobs in the Midwest are huge, which meant there were tons of workshops and learning opportunities. Here are two Detroit-based organizations doing innovative work with young people in their communities:
Detroit Digital Justice Coalition
The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition has a vision to create “healthy digital ecologies” in which people not only have access to the Internet, but have the skills to use the Internet and other communication tools to transform their communities. The coalition, which received funding through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is building the capacity of educators, community organizers, artists, technologists and small business to build a just and creative economy in Detroit.
One strategy that DDJC is using to close the digital divide while restoring relationships across generations is through an event called a “DiscoTech,” which stands for Discovering Technology Fair. The events bring together seniors, people on welfare, youth, environmental justice activists, and many other diverse community members. DiscoTechs are demystifying digital technologies with workshops that teach everything from how to set up an email account to how to build a computer from recycled parts.
Another exciting element of the coalition is their training programs: Detroit Future Media, Detroit Future Schools, and Detroit Future Youth. These programs work to tell stories that form new narratives about Detroit and its future. To the right, youth media makers imagined a new world while learning how to create videos as a part of the monthly Detroit Future Youth network’s gathering.
By empowering Detroiters to build communications infrastructure, distribute their own media, and to use media to organize for environmental justice, Detroit Digital Justice Coalition is working to realize a new vision for Detroit that includes economic development and digital justice.
Detroit Youth Energy Squad
The Detroit Youth Energy Squad (D-YES) empowers high school youth to become leaders in the effort to make Detroit a greener, healthier, and more sustainable city. This unique, yearlong program integrates sustainability education, leadership development, and community greening projects.
D-YES is founded on the principle that young people are not merely “the leaders of tomorrow” – they are leaders today with immense potential to make real, lasting change in their communities. One of the ways that D-YES supports youth in transforming Detroit is through their Home Energy Visits program where youth provide free home energy visits, installing energy and water saving supplies while teaching their clients what they can do to save on their utility bill.
One of the young women on the panel during this workshop spoke about her experience in the program. She talked about the empowerment she felt when realizing “we can do this!” This D-YES grad will be attending Michigan State University next fall and plans to major in Environmental Science.
The Digital Justice Coalition and Detroit Youth Energy Squad are just two examples of the work going on in Detroit, across the Blue Green Alliance network, and around the country to empower communities to take action on environmental injustices. It is my opinion that these local, grassroots efforts will be catalysts for action on climate change at a larger scale.
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