by Johnny Mao
The City of Seattle and its leaders can further define their legacy for young people of color with the 2019-20 budget plan. Got Green’s Young Leaders propose for the City of Seattle, its councilmembers, and Mayor Jenny Durkan to fund the Green Pathways Fellowship in partnership with Rainier Valley Corps.
The Green Pathways Fellowship will be rooted in Rainier Valley Corps’ successful approach to developing emerging leaders of color with a commitment to justice. The Fellowship will put the Green Pathways Resolution directly into action by implementing racial equity work in partnering organizations, and providing a rigorous mentorship program for fellows. This mentorship program will set an example for governments and organizations. It will serve as a model for the equitable outreach, retention, and development of young people of color. The Fellowship will also raise the bar for internships by providing a living wage in Seattle, the minimum income necessary to meet basic needs in the city with the fastest growing rent in the nation since 2013.
University of Michigan’s Green 2.0 report underscores this need. The “green ceiling” prevails in the environmental field, where people of color hold no more than 16 percent of positions and those that do are concentrated in the lower ranks, with less than 12 percent in leadership positions.
Green jobs in the green economy itself are a $520 billion dollar industry, where energy and efficiency improvements can in turn generate piles of green profits. Conservation is continuously measured in dollars and cents, as according to the City of Seattle’s Environmental Progress Report, Seattle’s urban forest sequesters carbon at a level valued at $11.7 million annually. This is just one example.
Now, it is a question of where these savings can go. Will they go towards equity? Will people of color continue to have our heads butt up against the “green ceiling”?
Every year, millions of young people compete for internships to jump start their careers. Bright youngsters line up in droves to outshine their peers for scarce internship opportunities, or that elusive first “foot in the door” or “big break”. They start the internship, breathe a short sigh of relief, and wake up the next day to begin working the internship – along with two additional side jobs, and school. The intern intends to grind their way towards a meaningful career pathway. Yet, at the conclusion of the internship, the bright young person realizes that there is nothing more for them there. It’s over, and there is no next step in the ladder. An all too familiar story.
Critics may say that young people of color are lucky that employers offer internships in the first place. They may say that the market supplies jobs only when the market demands them. Well, is it also the market’s job to enhance environmental health? To improve the economic and social well-being of people and communities? To center communities most negatively impacted by climate change?
When the market fails to address these issues, the City must step in.
The Green Pathways Fellowship is urgent because it is an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is. If we care about the environment, then we should care about the people living in it, including our current and future generations. This means enabling young people to succeed in the best way we can.
With your help, we can all lead it forward.
Contact your city councilmember and urge them to support Green Pathways in the city budget proposal.
Johnny Mao is a community organizer and longtime member of Got Green.
Feature Image Courtesy Got Green.