Interview with Kat Riley, AmeriCorps program coordinator for the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education.

What does your organization do and how long have you been around? 

The Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education (CAEE) was established in 1989. We support the many types of educators who teach concepts we all need to understand: how natural systems work, what we must do to interact responsibly with the environment, and how we can protect natural resources for future generations. We are the largest network of environmental educators in Colorado, serving over 800,000 learners. Collectively, we inspire educators, schools, and communities to impact conservation, education, social justice, health and wellness, and positive youth development.

What specific programs, practices, or priorities is your organization most focused on right now?

We’re most focused on how to best support and uplift the field of environmental education through times of COVID-19 transmission. More than ever, environmental education (EE) is so important as it helps to lower disease transmission by offering open, outdoor learning spaces for school-aged children. EE is also changing the way we learn by not only teaching individuals about their natural environment, but by developing lifelong skills in critical thinking, sense of belonging, ownership, and justice which leads to responsible action, and creating long-term behavioral change through increased awareness. 

To help guide the future of environmental education in Colorado, CAEE partnered with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) to convene over 65 community feedback calls with hundreds of environmental and outdoors learning providers from across the country. This resulted in the formation of the eeGuidance for Reopening Schools, which outlines several specific areas where environmental and outdoor education programs can help schools, students, teachers, and families.

We’re also currently working on other projects, such as the Careers in Natural Resources Initiative and the Environmental Education Corps (eeCorps) AmeriCorps Program. The Careers in Natural Resources Initiative provides young adults with stepping stones towards pursuing a career in natural resources, and the AmeriCorps Program places AmeriCorps members with EE host sites across the state to meet the goals of the Colorado Environmental Education Plan. 

In what ways could The Alliance Center community help you achieve your mission? 

We will be offering professional development and learning opportunities to our AmeriCorps members, so it would be great to have them learn about the work that The Alliance Center tenants are doing. If there’s ways for them to get involved, especially as part of their mandatory Days of Service, let us know! If any organizations have existing committees that our AmeriCorps members can participate in, this would work towards their training hours commitment and provide them with professional development surrounding leadership and advising. 

We also want to extend a hand in case we can assist any of you with your education efforts. We can offer technical assistance and training in education best practices. We currently have 850 members across Colorado; if you’re looking for a particular partner to help with educational development, we can make those connections for you. We chose The Alliance Center over other working spaces because it’s a major part of our mission to connect with others and create partnerships.

What is your proudest achievement as an organization?

The formation of the Colorado Environmental Education Plan (CEEP), which was adopted in December 2012 by the State Board of Education in partnership between CAEE, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, and the Colorado Department of Education. It was designed to promote, coordinate, and sustain standards-based environmental education across the state. The CEEP is also the basis for our AmeriCorps Program.

 

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Written by Jice Johnson, Founder and Director of The Black Business Initiative (BBI). She is best known as an advocate for Black Business and wealth building. Since 2014, BBI has worked to provide Black entrepreneurs with business acumen, mentorship programs, investment opportunities and access to capital. It has also worked towards advancing race-specific economic policy development, in order to correct historical injustice and create opportunities for intergenerational wealth building. BBI firmly believes in the power and responsibility of business to build thriving communities. 

 

In the Black community we have a funky little saying that goes: “You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.” This unfortunate saying is quite popular among Black elites and academics. Those who have experienced putting in an incredible amount of time and effort into their craft only to be passed up by nepotic and often mediocre colleagues, or those who are assumed to have only received placement or a position due to diversity quotas and suchyou knowaffirmative action speculations. What’s even worse are those who have experienced both.

When we consider the idea of success by way of merit, a foundational concept in this country, we can’t get too far into the conversation until we acknowledge that the systems and policies that govern our lives lean heavily in favor of white people. This is actually no secret at all and is highly documented. And yet corporate America is still plagued with disparities even as monetary pledges to black owned or led organizations flood social media timelines and PR campaigns.

The concept of Black excellence is really quite intriguing when given a bit of context. For example, despite being illegal and often deadly to learn how to read, post slavery statistics show that, once freed, the Black community’s literacy rates sky rocketed past all other groups, growing from a 30 percent literacy rate to an 80 percent literacy rate in a short period of time, all without formal education or access to resources or schools. Although significant disparities continue to exist in education today, Black women are still the most educated segment in the country when looking at associate and bachelor degrees. 

The sheer amount of obstacles in the way of the Black community to obtain any level of success indicates a level of excellence most of white America will never need, and places a huge black hole in the theory of success by merit. Pun intended. 

What’s more offensive is the lack of awareness and insight into the contributions of Black Americans that seem to be missing in the C Suite and board rooms across this country. What adds insult to injury is the Black tokenism in order to check a diversity box that ultimately doesn’t create any lasting change. What rubs salt in the wound is that said tokenism can be detrimental to the one Black person attempting to shed their culture and assimilate into white America, often causing isolation and mental health issues due to both covert and overt aggressions.

Every CEO must work to push past performance. While many corporate changes take place under public pressure and scrutiny, few changes, pledges, and commitments have resulted in a decrease in racial disparities. The climate of the times calls for and allows for organizations to take strong stances in anti-racists practices that have long been upheld in corporate America, challenging CEO’s and boards to perform massive policy overhauls and intentional shifts in their corporate culture, talent development, and supply chain management.

It’s time to change the narrative. Black excellence exists in abundance. It’s more than a trend. It’s an economic revolution and it’s time to take your stand on the right side of history.

 

This is an exciting time for Healthier Colorado as we announce that we have officially broken ground on the Colorado Health Capitol. This new space will serve as a collaborative environment for non-profit organizations invested in improving the mental, physical, social, economic, and environmental health of all Coloradans. Among these organizations includes The Bell Policy Center, Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI), and One Colorado, with whom we are thrilled to embark on this journey.

The Alliance Center has been an incredible home for Healthier Colorado over these last six years. Together, we’ve transformed into one of Colorado’s leading health policy organizations and have founded Healthy Air and Water Colorado to help bring health professionals into the climate conversation. We are now taking the next step to formalize a home for other organizations championing health policy through the state. The Colorado Health Capitol will be a space that meets the challenge of our current and likely future reality, shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which non-profits need high quality, flexible space, and the ability to collaborate and operate efficiently to meet their goals.

Located in the heart of Uptown at the intersection of 17th and Grant, the Health Capitol will occupy 26,000 square feet and provide state-of-the-art amenities including a conference and event center, full-time community manager, a large shared kitchen, on-site cafe, fitness center, parking garage access, five private conference rooms, three phone booths, a media production room, as well as a maternity and meditation space.

While the physical element of this project is certainly exciting, what it represents for Colorado’s growing health movement is far more significant. To drive a cohesive health movement, advocates of mental, physical, social, economic, and environmental health must first recognize our shared purpose in the same way a person passionate about conservation efforts recognize each other as “environmentalists.” This is the vision we cultivate at Healthier Colorado, and the establishment of the Colorado Health Capitol is a physical manifestation of that vision. Our hope is that as these organizations come together under one roof, each respective element of health we fight for will coalesce for the benefit of all Coloradans.

The new space is designed to accommodate Coloradans who share our vision. Our Community Access Program will allow mission-aligned organizations and individuals to use Health Capitol amenities at no cost. The same access will be provided to individuals and under-resourced organizations within Denver who have temporary needs. Together, we will use the public policy process to engage with the full range of health issues and continue raising the voices and serving the interest of regular people.

As the new home to great non-profit organizations working together to uplift the well-being of Coloradans, The Colorado Health Capitol will elevate each organization’s mission as well, bringing attention, collaboration, and shared resources to the great work we all do. As Mayor Hancock said, working together under one roof will bring these organizations closer, forging a connection and promoting the growth of a cohesive health movement in Colorado. Colorado’s Health Capitol exists to address health issues that affect us all regardless of age, ethnicity, political affiliation or economic opportunity. The perspectives within will reflect the diversity of our state and represent the interests and needs of every Coloradan.

 

Written by Kyle Piccola, Healthier Colorado’s Senior Director of Communications.

What does your organization do? 

Recycle Colorado is an action-oriented and member-driven organization that works on state and local policy, projects that are related to state infrastructure and business end markets for material recovery, reuse and manufacturing, and advancing all that is recycling.

What is your organization most focused on right now on? 

We are most focused on building circular economies in the Rocky Mountain region through end market research and development, promoting recycling through education, awareness and engagement campaigns, and policy, and being Colorado’s central spot for everyone – individuals to businesses to government entities – to collaborate and thrive. Our organization is an action-oriented and member-driven staple in Colorado that’s progressive and supports the ever changing landscape of the recycling industry.

In what ways could this community help you achieve your mission?

We are thrilled with The Alliance Center community and value everyone’s support. Partnership and tangible initiatives are what inspires us and recycling and business is something that unites us – we welcome collaboration at all levels. Please reach out at kristin@recyclecolorado.org!

What is unique about your organization that you could offer to the community? 

We are THE recycling organization in Colorado. Our Executive Director focuses on inclusivity, so she has a wealth of resources, strategic partnership opportunities, and expert guidance and education. There isn’t another nonprofit like Recycle Colorado here, that can seamlessly move within the unique realm of recycling.

What is your proudest achievement as an organization?

Most recently, supporting the passage of SB20-055 (Incentivize Development Recycling End Markets) – complete with a live stream of the Governor signing it! This was one of the few bills passed in 2020 and was concerning the expansion of market mechanisms for the further development of recycling. Gov. Polis and the First Gentleman will be making a cameo at our annual conference, too: Summit for Recycling – Building a Circular Economy in the Rockies.

 

Written by Kristin Kim Haynes, Executive Director of Recycle Colorado

 

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This blog post was written by JennaLee and Devani, who interned with The Alliance Center this summer through the Girls Inc. Eureka! program. The Alliance Center recently hosted the Colorado Emergence Series to develop solutions to some of the biggest issues in Colorado, and the interns conducted interviews with Fatuma Emmad, a series participant, and Hunter Lovins, who helped lead the series. To implement the series’ proposed solutions, The Alliance Center is leading the Regenerative Recovery Coalition. Learn more and find out how you can be part of the solution here

On the farm with Fatuma Emmad

With many world issues such as human rights violations, racism and sexism, local leader Fatuma Ammad, co-founder of Front Line Farming, takes on farming as a path to building a better Colorado. 

Front Line Farming is a community that runs a multi-plot farm and is committed to growing and providing healthy food and food education to all people no matter their income level. Fatuma is always pushing for change and bringing attention to farmers and food security. Front Line Farming is currently based in the Denver metro area, but they’re always looking for opportunities to expand throughout Colorado. 

During our time with Fatuma, we asked her about being the co-founder of Front Line Farming and the many other organizations she leads. We asked, “as a leader of so many organizations, does it ever become really stressful, if so how do you manage?” Fatuma said that it all comes down to how she and her team work together and love each other. She pointed something out that really stood out to us, “there’s a lot of different types of racism you have to deal with, even when you get to the top… I knew this before I started my organization…so I’ve really built my team and our organization with resiliency.” We weren’t aware that racism can still take place at high levels of leadership, like the position she’s in. She also explained that her team doesn’t operate with white supremacy either. Fatuma’s really broad and outside of the box perspectives on these topics were amazing! 

Fatuma also talked about the working environment for farmers. To continue to make change and make sure her workers are in the best care, she brings safety supplies, money, and policy work to communities. She describes, “the environment for farmers is crucial, farming labour is done by immigrant and undocumented people in conditions that are completely unacceptable, and it’s not about justice issues but human rights issues.” These hard workers are called illegal and aren’t welcomed, yet they are still essential workers during this time, risking their own safety. She wants people to recognize all the hard labor that people of color are doing for this country.

With the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, one of Fatuma’s strongest opinions that stood out to us was when she talked about the Black community in farming. She says, “Black people owned more land in the United States in the 20th century than they do now.” This issue has been going on for so long that people choose to ignore the issue because it serves them. The government wants to act like they’re not in the wrong, that we have solved the problem and it’s gone. That is why Fatuma chooses to use her voice in policy and legislation spaces. She wants to represent young people, people of color and women.

Another major topic that Fatuma talked about was women in the field and women empowerment, one of the main focuses of Girls Inc. and Eureka. She started the conversation by saying, “you know I’m a woman and I farm, I’m not like some big strong guy.” Many believe that women aren’t strong enough for farm work and hard labor. Over the years, female operated farm percentages haven’t really gone up, although in many countries women are the ones in the field doing all the hard labor. This is a problem that stands out to us because women need to work twice as hard to get recognized in a leadership role. That is what Fatuma tries to advocate for change and why she is such a great role model. 

Having Fatuma as our second interview was a great experience! This opportunity was definitely a success for developing our skills, and it was so great to hear the amazing thoughts and opinions that take place in Fatuma Emmad’s mind. 

Economic Sustainability Mission with Hunter Lovins

Hunter Lovins is a major influence in the field of sustainability in Colorado. She is the founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions (NCS). NCS has only the best in class sustainability professionals who work together to help develop pragmatic ways to bring efficiency and sustainability to government and corporate clients. Ms. Lovins has over forty years of experience with change management and sustainability. 

We asked Ms. Lovins where sustainability is needed most, and she answered, “everywhere.” She explains that in the U.S, the measure of success is dependent on wealth and that this is the reason why the world is crashing. Hunter sees our current world as having the greatest amount of inequality due to the false narrative that was made to believe true. She states, “…economists like Thomas Piketty, who wrote the book Capital In the Twenty-First Century, show that high levels of inequality is causative of collapse.” Ms. Lovins has a very passionate and broad perspective on changing that narrative in order to create sustainability. 

Ms. Lovins goes more into depth about inequality in the world, when she speaks about people who have always been discriminated against. She recognizes that being white, having plenty to eat, living on a beautiful ranch, doing well for herself, are all a great privilege. She even went into depth about police brutality, saying it’s just not right, “If I were black and stopped by a policeman, my life would be at risk. I’m white, I’m elderly, if I get stopped by a policeman, I’ll hear “Ma’am how can I be of service to you?” She has committed her life to ensuring that everyone on the planet has the same privilege. She wants to have conversations about institutionalized racism, empowerment and giving voice to people who have not had one. 

Hunter’s perfect vision of a sustainable world was so wide, with so many ideas. In her book, A Finer Future, the narrative was that it’s 2050 and we made it, we have solved the problems facing humanity. Ideas such as a sustainable palm oil that stops the loss of rainforest or a cohousing community in Indonesia that has cleaned the air, and even that the main street of Broadway, New York, is now a massive urban garden, all things that would make the world a better place. Hunter said, “We have the technologies that we need to solve the problems, and the question now…is will we do it, will we do it on time?” 

There is no doubt that Ms. Lovins has great expectations for change and sustainability in the world. Since she was a child her whole life has similarly evolved around the field she is in now. From our interview or from getting the amazing opportunity to talk with Hunter, you will see how knowledgeable, inspirational and passionate she is about her life’s work. 

Written by: Devani Dominguez and Jennalee Casias

A firestorm of protests has swept the United States. In their wake, government leaders have implemented curfews and law enforcement has carried out riot control efforts. The widespread use of tear gas as a crowd-control tactic has raised significant health and safety concerns–not only for those protesting but for the environment as well.

Effects on Individuals

Tear gas quells riots by temporarily making people unable to function by irritating their eyes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns that those exposed to tear gas may experience excessive tearing, burning sensations, blurred vision, a runny nose, difficulty swallowing, coughing, rashes, vomiting and redness in the eyes. These symptoms will usually disappear within a short time if the exposure to tear gas ceases. Long-lasting exposure or exposure to a large dose, especially in a closed setting, may result in more severe health effects, such as blindness, glaucoma, chemical burns to the throat and lungs or respiratory failure.

Using tear gas during the COVID-19 pandemic is especially worrisome because it increases a person’s susceptibility to the virus. A study conducted in 2014 found that US military recruits who were exposed to tear gas as part of a training exercise were more likely to develop respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and the flu. One of the immediate health effects of exposure to tear gas is coughing, which facilitates the spread of COVID by increasing the number of infectious droplets in the air. Moreover, tear gas can compromise the body’s ability to fight off the infection by causing injury and inflammation to the lining of the airways.

Effects on the Environment

Tear gas is actually not a gas. It is a chemical powder that is mixed with liquid in order to be dispersed as a spray. Because of its powdered nature, chemical residue is left behind after every spray. In addition tear gas may contain silicon, which allows it to last longer in the environment and not disintegrate as quickly.

Studies about tear gas tend to focus on its health effects on humans, so the environmental impact on wildlife, plants and water, is not well known. However, because its residue settles on surfaces and stays there for days before breaking down, tear gas can contaminate agriculture, local wildlife and groundwater. This puts Black and Latinx communities who live in urban or poor areas especially at risk since they face disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses because of their proximity to factories and industrial sites. The air quality in these communities is often low; therefore, there is a legitimate concern about the potential of tear gas as a harmful contaminant. 

The question, then, is how do we ensure a more discriminate use of tear gas and other chemical weapons, especially during a respiratory illness pandemic? Other cities such as Seattle have temporarily halted its use, but many have yet to reconsider. 
To accelerate reform, individual actions can be taken, such as calling local police departments and demanding a review of their rules and norms regarding tear gas usage or attending city council meetings and raising community awareness of the issue. House Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Takano and Chuy Garcia have announced that they will be introducing a bill that forces local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to dispose of all chemical weapons. We must call our local elected officials to amass support for bans on tear gas at the city level. Banning chemical weapons is one of the many steps we must take in this moment to prevent a new wave of COVID-19 and any unforeseen environmental impacts that may disproportionately affect communities of color.

Written by Maria Reyes, Programs Intern