This was originally part of a larger proposal to fund a paid internship program.
Building a truly sustainable future requires a diverse movement working together to confront environmental challenges as well as genuine buy-in from an informed, engaged and activated public. Haphazard growth, sprawling development and climate change will affect everyone, but will disproportionately impact under-resourced and marginalized communities. It is therefore imperative that sustainability organizations like [organization name withheld] become more effective at engaging low-income communities, people of color and other minorities to ensure that their voices, needs and perspectives inform our work.
We seek to partner with the Coca-Cola Foundation to create a long-term paid internship program in partnership with Seattle-based college-success group Rainier Scholars that will target high-school and college students from communities of color and low-income households.
Interns will gain hands-on experience, professional skills and field-specific knowledge through paid work, helping to ensure that the next generation of sustainability professionals is truly representative of the overall population. These internships will also strengthen our work by exposing the organization to the perspectives of people who have been historically marginalized in the environmental field and by creating a pipeline for future skilled employees…
…THE “WHY”: CREATING A DIVERSE AND EQUITABLE ENVIRONMENTAL SECTOR
Seattle and its surrounding communities are growing at a breakneck pace and rapidly diversifying. People of color now make up 44 percent of King County’s overall population. A strong economy fuels the growth, but unfortunately not everyone shares in the benefits. In 2013, 26 percent of Latino and 35 percent of black households around Puget Sound were below the federal poverty line, compared to just nine percent of white households. The median 2013 income for black residents was $36,150 compared to over $75,000 for white residents.
Making matters worse, low-income minority communities are more likely to bear the worst of environmental and climate-related problems such as water and air pollution, rising sea levels, and extreme weather. Plus these communities more often lack ready access to green space and housing that’s adequate and affordable. Efforts to address these issues will succeed best if they reflect the community’s diversity. And yet, so far they haven’t. A 2014 study by the University of Michigan looked at 285 sustainability organizations nationwide and found that racial minorities made up just 16 percent of staff and less than 12 percent of leadership despite comprising 38 percent of the general population.
Closer to home, recent research by Got Green finds that the vast majority of green jobs and internships in Seattle are still occupied by people who are white. Part of the problem: internships are often the on-ramp to employment. But most internships are unpaid, presenting a major hurdle for low-income applicants. Seattle’s fast-escalating cost of living exacerbates matters, typically forcing a choice between a job that pays, but isn’t in the field, and an unpaid internship impractical for someone who needs higher wages…
…Personal Equity Statement
I am dedicated to true equity in higher education and the professional workforce. By “true” I refer to the idea that diversity and inclusion are not tools to “lift up” people of color and other minorities, but are in fact essential components of a healthy society and workforce. Diverse backgrounds and perspectives are assets and resources for companies and organizations because they introduce new, creative ways of thinking about problems and solutions.
Inclusion and equity should not be pursued to create token representation or offer a charitable “leg up.” They should be pursued because historically marginalized communities have the same abilities and talents and the white majority, and because they offer viewpoints that can challenge the status quo and inspire innovation. This isn’t just about redressing historic crimes. As the United States shifts to a minority-majority country, the republic’s future will be largely determined by the educational and economic assets of the emerging new majority. Without a diverse and inclusive workforce, the US will cease to be competitive and stagnate in de facto economic apartheid.
As a white cis male I have unearned privileges. But I have sought to draw on my relative position of power to provide whatever tools I have to assist in the self-empowerment of communities of color. At El Centro de la Raza I proposed and designed culturally and linguistically inclusive early education, after school, food security, financial literacy, homeownership and other programming to ensure that marginalized communities in South Seattle were adequately resourced.
At [name withheld], I worked to address the lack of diversity by working on a small equity team that provided hiring and retention recommendations to inform strategic planning, advocated for an unimplemented external review of the organization’s diversification efforts, and helped design and implement a paid internship program in partnership with Rainier Scholars. I take this work very seriously because I believe there is no democratic future without it.