Teach young people leadership- Parents should lead by example and help work on climate change in their everyday lives. Volunteering and buying from environmentally friendly companies can help educate young people on the current state of our environment. I created the Project Petals Youth Builders program to help build youth environmental leaders
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alicia White.
Alicia White is an award-winning environmentalist, innovator, and social entrepreneur. She is the Founder of Project Petals, a non-profit environmental and community development organization in New York City. Project Petals was founded in 2014 in Queens. With the goal to revitalize the environment in under-resourced and communities of color.
She believes an inclusive, equitable future goes hand-in-hand with responsible environmental practices. Alicia’s advocacy work stems from a lifelong passion for improving the environment, making educational programming accessible, and connecting communities with vital resources.
Alicia has received awards for her work by ABC News, Discovery Channel’s “Inspire a Difference” Award, Huffington Post’s 99 Limit Breaking Female Founders, NBA Knicks’ City Award, New York City Mayoral Service Honor Award, NY1 News, Yankees Hero Award and Points of Light.
Her work has been featured in prominent media outlets like New York Post, Reader’s Digest, NBC, Mashable, Women’s Health Magazine, Allure Magazine, and Huffington Post.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in NYC, the concrete jungle, in the borough of Queens, one of the most diverse communities in NYC. Volunteerism and advocacy were a huge part of my life and upbringing. My parents sparked my love of activism and volunteer work; they made sure I volunteered on my days off for a cause I was passionate about. At a young age, I learned that I could use my voice to make a change.
My holidays were spent volunteering, helping others, and really taking on causes that had the ability to create a substantial change. Volunteering and learning about social issues at an early age prepared me for adulthood and taught me to be an activist and advocate. In high school, I protested with fellow students because of the lack of funding for NYC public schools. It was through these experiences I learned to use my voice to advocate and advance the lives of people who are not given the resources they need to succeed.
I found great joy and inspiration in the community I grew up in. Queens is a vibrant place culturally, in the arts, and many other ways. What I enjoyed most about Queens were and still are the people. There is a sense of community and togetherness that were a big part of my upbringing. Also, growing up in Jamaica, Queens, there was a lot I wanted to change about my neighborhood, but at the time, I did not know how. In my community, I saw the potential for community spaces, especially with acres of green spaces. Yet, my neighborhood of Jamaica Queens lacked the funding needed to have the same community and environmentally sound spaces that were readily available in Manhattan.
Now, I am a climate and environmental activist. I have been working on the front lines of climate change and environmental sustainability for the past six years. I work with communities all over New York to improve their environments by mobilizing and advocating for necessary changes.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
I knew I wanted to become an environmental leader after seeing the stark difference between the environment in Manhattan, New York, compared to the communities in the outer boroughs. When traveling, I also saw a difference in the environment. From what I saw, lower-income communities were the first to see environmental deterioration and any negative impact of climate change — at that moment, seeing the impacts of what a lack of resources can do to the environment prompted me to want to make a change. After natural disasters like Katrina and human-made disasters like Flint, I was compelled to do something. To start working to ensure that the soundness of people’s environments and communities are not determined by their zip code. In fact, people of colorhave and will be the first to suffer from any climate change, as will communities of a lower-income status.
I decided to start a non-profit organization in New York called Project Petals, an environmental and community development organization that would help to improve environmental conditions in communities that are under-resourced and under-funded. It was my first step in realizing a dream that I had as a young girl; to ensure that all communities, regardless of their economic status, are environmentally safe.
I knew by becoming an environmental leader; I could help other people become leaders. To me, this is the point of leadership; to highlight people’s strengths and help to amplify their voices. Being able to help and work with other environmental leaders has also helped me know this is where my passion lies.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
The main lesson would be, do not be afraid to use your voice or to take a stand even if you have to start small, and don’t think you have to be perfect. Usually, we see a movement, organization, or work, and we think that is how they started. In reality, great things take time to develop. When at first, maybe your leadership will consist of you taking on one environmental project, volunteering by yourself, or with friends.
When I first started Project Petals, I only had three volunteers show up, but I did not give up on my project. At times I felt a bit discouraged, but I hung in there. The main way to succeed it not by giving up. Being any type of leader, it is not about how many times you win or accomplish your goals to perfection, but it’s how you fail with grace and not deviate from your path of creating change.
In fact, we all have the ability to lead and take charge of our environments and communities. Growing up, I was very quiet and introverted, but I never looked at those two personality qualities as something negative. In fact, both of those attributes help me in my work in being an environmental leader. A great lesson to realize as a young person is that you have the tools you need to make a change now. You have what’s needed, you don’t need to wait for something magical to happen in order to change what’s happening around you, because you are “the something” that’s going to happen, and that’s going to change things.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
I founded Project Petals, an environmental and community development grassroots organization in 2014 in Queens, NYC. My organization is mobilizing community members and improving the environment, primarily under-resourced areas. We provide community members with the necessary tools, education, youth leadership, training, and connections to transform the environment in their communities. We help communities with environmental projects, advocacy, volunteer service, and provide educational mentoring and workshops. My organization supplies resources and tools to help build internal leadership and help people become activists in their neighborhoods. To improve their environment and produce healthier outcomes and create programs for the betterment of the environment and communities.
Environmental and educational leadership for youth– I started the Project Petals Youth Builders program to help foster youth environmental engagement and champion their voices through environmental leadership in their communities and achieve better futures outcomes through workshops, mentorship, and leadership skills. The program prepares young people for careers that are needed to develop sound environments long-term and make them more sustainable and help youth in their area mobilize through volunteering to create a lasting impact.
Environmental Revitalization– My organization focuses on improving the environment by working with leaders and community members to improve the environment, advocate for better environmental conditions, and help them access the tools and resources they need to make an effective change.
The organization looks to disrupt the cycle of inequitable infrastructure through innovation and sustainable environments by creating an avenue for resources and support within the community. Our mission is to create and sustain equitable communities by solving community development and detrimental environmental conditions in low-income, under-served, and communities of color. The purpose of Project Petals is to alleviate the socio-economic divide and bring awareness to environmental and community development issues that are the cause of unhealthy and unsound outcomes.
Our programming provides hands-on help to community members, ensuring that they have access to resources that will help them prosper in their environment. Project Petals acts as an advocate by pushing for environmental inclusion and cultivating a generation of future leaders. Through a scaffolding of support entailing educational programming, leadership development, civic engagement, and volunteerism, Project Petals seeks to realize a world where every community, regardless of socio-economic status, is valued and can achieve sustainability and safe spaces.
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
Purchasing from sustainable brands- Being conscious of your buying power is extremely important if you want to become more sustainable. By supporting companies working to improve the environment and have sustainable practices, you are helping to build a more sustainable and environmentally conscious economy.
Living a sustainable life means being mindful of the brands and companies you support and ensuring they align with a sustainable world. While you are putting in all the hard work and reducing your carbon footprint, you should do your research and find out if the brands you use are putting forth the same effort in being sustainable.
Practice Zero waste– Zero waste simply means you are not filling your trash to the brim every day or even better, every week. The aim should be to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills. If we are reducing the amount of single-use items we purchase, we are practicing zero waste. In everyday life, this looks like carrying a reusable water bottle instead of buying a single-use plastic, turning down a plastic bag when buying groceries, purchasing a reusable bag, or turning down plastic straws when eating out. Zero waste is better for the environment in many ways. One, it stops trash from going to landfills and transporting waste to landfill causes pollution by emitting c02 gas. You can make a transition to zero waste a week or month at a time. Going through your daily needs and routines is the first step. This way, you’ll see what’s a necessary purchase and what isn’t vital to your life, and save the planet from significant pollution. The first step is finding items you already have at home that can be reused again. One of the biggest polluters is how we travel. If you can, take public transportation, walk, or ride a bike when you can. If you can purchase a car that’s electric or hybrid, it is a great way to be more sustainable.
Donate or volunteering- Donate or volunteering- Donating and volunteering your time with a grassroots environmental organization in your community can help create a more sustainable world. When thinking about sustainability, it is important that we think both globally and locally. Connecting with local organizations can bring about a change in your community and have a more significant impact.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change.
This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
Teach young people leadership- Parents should lead by example and help work on climate change in their everyday lives. Volunteering and buying from environmentally friendly companies can help educate young people on the current state of our environment. I created the Project Petals Youth Builders program to help build youth environmental leaders.
Books or reading material that help young people learn about the environment and how to improve it to make necessary changes that will improve our conditions overall.
Provide outdoor experiences- The younger people experience nature. It will be easier to explain to them what they are protecting. Gardening, environmental, and community clean-ups will be an excellent way to learn how to be responsible and care for their/ our plane.
Improve the planet at home Recycling, practicing zero waste at home is important for young people to learn. Turning off the electricity and the water when it is not in use.
Visit different environments- Young people need to visit and experience different environments. If you live in the city, maybe take a trip to a more rural area. If you are from a rural area, take a trip to the city. Visiting different environments will give young people a chance to learn about communities outside of their everyday lives.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
The business model of taking on sustainability and being environmentally conscious has proven to impact companies’ bottom line. Consumers have become more aware of their buying power and are contributing to companies that align with the improvement of the environment. A business can save money by cutting back on plastic use, production processes, and purchasing office items that can be reused. What can really help a business is taking an audit of its carbon footprint.
Being more sustainable can also help businesses save money by cutting back on electricity and the amount of plastic items used. Corporate Social Responsibility is very important as well. Giving employees days off to volunteer with environmental organizations can help businesses become more conscious of environmental and community needs.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to my family for instilling activism, advocacy, and volunteerism into my life at a very young age. I’m also grateful to all of the environmental activists who came before me. A group of people that have helped me get to where I am is my community. When I first started my project, they showed up to contribute, volunteer and help bring about change.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A movement that I would love to inspire is a collective environmental commitment across the world to help combat the impending climate change; an environmental inclusion movement. Black, indigenous, Hispanic, and other communities of color are the first to see negative impacts of climate change, yet are underfunded, underrepresented, and under-resourced. I would like a movement that includes and not exclude people of color and under-resourced areas. Where our voices are amplified, elevated and our environments are protected so our communities can be sustainable, healthy and safe.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“She who dares to win” My uncle would use this quote to describe me. It means a lot to me, and I use it as a life lesson every day. You do not know what you can achieve if you do not dare to take a chance. You never know what you are capable of. It is relevant to my work and my life. Because if I had never dared to try, I would not have created my organization.
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