Actress Kerry Washington is Green!

Kerry Washington is best known for her roles in such films as “The Fantastic Four,” “The Last King of Scotland,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” and “Ray.” But there’s more! Did you know she is green? I first read about Kerry’s commitment to the environment  in the July 2008 Ebony. She practices sustainability, serves the community, and advocates for environmental justice.

Kerry lends her voice to many aspects of environmentalism. In Elle Magazine: Greenhouse Effect, she coaxed eco-stylist Danny Seo to decorate her home. She choose eco-friendly paint for the walls, purchased an energy efficient television, and filled her home with eco-friendly and recycled furniture. Lush plants on her balcony connect the indoors and outdoors. Read more at Kerry Washington’s Green Apartment Makeover to be inspired to do the same.

More recently, Kerry stepped outside the walls of her home joining with the Boys and Girls Club of America and their “Be Great” Campaign.” The organization promotes healthy living through nutrition and fitness through indoor and outdoor activities for youth, and more. Watch a “Be Great” video:

Kerry Washington, Boys and Girls Club

Little-Kerry-then is now a Boys and Girls Club alumni. Learn more about Washington’s role at Kerry Signs on to the “Be Great” Campaign.

Kerry is also vocal about environmental racism. Watch a video in which she shares her thoughts at Ecoist- Kerry Washington.

Kerry shares her philosophy of the environment:

“‘I won’t tolerate extremists,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to be a hypocrite, but I’m not giving up my hair dryer. Do whatever is doable for you. Whether it’s buying recycled toothbrushes or shopping at a local organic fruit market or changing the light bulbs. Taking tiny steps can help in a huge way.'” “The Natural Woman: Kerry Washington” (Ebony, July 2008, 102)

Do what you can too. A little here. A little there.

Thank you, Kerry Washington!

Sacred Moments: A Baby Owl and Two Strangers in a Parking Lot

I was rushing to get to school but of course I had to stop at the drugstore for something I didn’t really need. I could feel dampness in the air just on the edge of being warm typical of the coming of spring. When I stepped out of my car, I noticed beautiful feathers in many shades of brown against the gray asphalt of the parking lot in the middle of Atlanta. The talons were striking, savage art. Looking closer, it was an owl. Perhaps it was a Barred or a Hoot Owl. I was saddened that it lay there dead, its dark eyes still looking alive telling a story. I leaned over and whispered, “Poor thing.” I slowly turned and went into the drugstore.

On my way out, a woman was standing by my car, squatting over the bird. She looked up at me, a white woman with medium brown shoulder-length hair a camel colored winter coat. She picked up the bird, cradling it in one of her small hands as I walked towards her.

She asked in a low pained voice, “Was it here when you drove up?”

I said, “Yes, it was here when I arrived. Dead on the ground. It’s an owl isn’t it?” I could only speak in simple sentences.

Yes, it’s a baby owl,” she responded.

“Oh,” I said, “It looked so small, so lovely there on the ground.”

Looking to me she sighed, “A cat must have gotten it.”

We both stood heads bowed in the lot honoring the passing of the baby owl. Together we acknowledged its existence, its life and early death.

She said as we parted, “I’m going to put him to the side.”

And I responded, “That’s a good idea.”

Two strangers, one black and the other white, united in mourning over a beautiful wild creature. Sadly, the baby owl was dead. Yet we connected over a death that changed both of our lives in just a few short moments. With spring coming, more life is around the corner as part of the inevitable yet sacred cycle of life and death.

Vibe Vixen O’ De’ Day: Responsibility, Environment, and Jewels

Anybody remember Vibe Vixen? The magazine didn’t last very long. Yet I miss flipping through the pages.  We still have the memories easily googled or binged on the internet. Here’s Kimora Lee Simmons on the cover going back to 2006.

Inside the pages of the magazine, I found some tips on being environmentally responsible concerning jewelry.  Go to page 95 for more. Hey, black people care about the environment too!

More people started thinking more about the source of their jewelry including blood or conflict diamonds with the theatrical release of “Blood Diamonds” starring Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo DiCaprio came out. Kayne West even rapped about the jewels in “Diamonds from Sierra Leone.” My favorite part is Shirley Bassey laying down the track singing the classic “Diamonds are Forever.” A few of Kanye’s lyrics:

Good Morning, this ain’t Vietnam still
People lose hands, legs, arms for real
Little was known of Sierra Leone
And how it connect to the diamonds we own
When I speak of Diamonds in this song
I ain’t talkin bout the ones that be glown
I’m talkin bout Rocafella, my home, my chain
These ain’t conflict diamonds,is they Jacob? don’t lie to me mayne
See, a part of me sayin’ keep shinin’

Learn more: “Diamonds of War: Africa’s Blood Diamond.”

Black and Birdwatching

That's Me in the Blue and Black Jacket With Students , Louisiana Coast Marshland, March 2005

I once birdwatched. In 2004, when I lived in New Orleans, I saw so many waterfowl in the springtime. One day, I spotted a bird with white feathers, yellow toes, and a black beak at Audubon Park in uptown New Orleans. A small part of the park, had a bit of marsh filled with birds, if I remember correctly. The Mississippi River wasn’t too far away either–probably less than a mile–another draw for birds. So it made sense that I spotted this waterfowl uptown. So ok, the bird had me intrigued: it was pretty.

I quickly ordered a laminated chart of southeastern birds and a bird guide. I learned that it was a Snowy Egret!

Snowy Egret

I kept the guides in my car so when I saw a bird that caught my eye while driving around southern Louisiana, I could identify it. Who knows where my guides ended up when I moved from New Orleans to Atlanta. I tried rooting around some closets to find them. No luck.

I had completely forgotten about my brief interest in birds until I picked up John C. Robinson’s  Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers. Although the book is for everyone, Robinson does focus on African Americans. Many people often ask why African Americans do not enjoy the great outdoors, why they don’t embrace nature. Robinson gets more specific detailing why people of color, including African Americans, are not birders or birdwatchers.

He offers several reasons:

  1. Rejection of black culture: If blacks appreciate the outdoors, what is perceived as a white activity, then they are rejecting their own people and values (Robinson, 47)
  2. Lack of participation: If blacks do not see other blacks at birding clubs or organization, they generally won’t join (Robinson, 47)
  3. High cost: If blacks spend money on equipment like binoculars and hiking gear then who will buy the baby’s shoes and pay junior’s school fees? (Robinson, 51)
  4. Limitation of time: Blacks have little time for leisure activities because they are hustling to cover basic expenses like the electric bill  (Robinson, 52)
  5. Company and training: They cannot find company to go birding, nor is there anyone to teach them this outdoor activity (Robinson, 52)

Robinson also alludes to fear of wild places. And I would add a form of racism on the trail when whites stare at blacks who actually make it outside is a deterrent. And perhaps some would say birds were meant for plucking, cooking, and eating not watching.

Photo from early 1900s.

I say give it a try. Hey, I identified a Snowy Egret all on my own steam.

The Oscars: Avatar, Hurt Locker, and the Environment

Na'vi Blue, Avatar

The Oscars are coming. Watch the 82nd Academy Awards on Sunday, March 7, 2008 on ABC. Why? Because of the environmental themes, that’s why. I’m not going to cover everything but here are some of my picks, of course based on, yes, the environment.

AVATAR is my number one pick, not because it had the best actors, not because of a fabulous screenplay but because of the environmental justice themes. Go to Rue Mapp’s Outdoor Afro to learn more about the connection to environmental justice and environmental racism in the film.

Next in the running is District 9, another film with environmental themes. The aliens who land in Johannesburg, Africa are a metaphor for apartheid in Africa, segregation in the US, and racism around the world. Their ship breaks down and the South Africans responds by corralling the insect aliens into a camp–a garbage dump, a shanty-town of shacks–in much the same way the US did with the Japanese during World War I with internment camps in the deserts of California and Nevada. The movie also points to how much humans, citizens, and aliens, illegal aliens or immigrants, are very much the same. I also love science fiction so there.

District 9

My third pick is THE HURT LOCKER. It’s all about the Iraqi landscape. White hot sun. Dry desert. The acting and screenplay are also amazing focusing on adrenalin junkies and post-traumatic stress syndrome among American soldiers in Iraq. So there are also themes of health and medicine in a great film.

So onto another category. Since JULIA AND JULIA was not nominated for Best Picture, Meryl Streep for Best Leading Actress will represent for the entire movie. Part of the film is set in Brooklyn. One of the Julias writes her blog on cooking all of of Julia Child’s French cuisine recipes while living above a storefront in Brooklyn. Concrete. Asphalt. Metal bars on doors and windows. It may not be everyone’s ideal environmental paradise but it’s what many a city-dweller is accustomed to compared to the wild. And we can watch the foodways of a Brooklynite cooking French food and an American in Paris coming up with a French cookbook. A bit convoluted but it all works for me. So Meryl Streep gets my Best Actress nod.

So here is the big Barbara Walter’s question she often asked during her Oscar special that precedes the award ceremony: if you were a tree, what tree would you be? And I’ll add why did you choose that tree. I am a Gingo Biloba tree because I saw so many planted in squares of earth that was surrounded by concrete when I worked in Manhattan.

Gingko Biloba

I haven’t seen all the movies nominated in the Best Picture category but hope to as I search for other environmental themes on the big screen. See you at the Oscars.

Percy: Father, Organic Gardener

My dad had a garden in Queens, New York. It was a wild place. There were no rows. There was no rhyme or reason. Mixed in together were tomatoes, cucumbers and peas. When the vines got long, he cobbled together pieces of wood to wrap the many vines.

My family–me, my mother, and my brother–made fun of his wild vegetable garden. He laughed at us. But still we ate what he produced. Big fat tomatoes. Long huge cucumbers. So much came out of his tiny garden that he shared with family and friends. Community!

Percy at 19 (?) in Jamaica

And when the planting season was over and all the vegetables plucked from the stems and vines, he would let what remained rot back into the earth. We thought what a mess. The earth thought: Hey, I’m getting back the nutrients I parted with everytime you people ate my peas and tomatoes.

It was not until I started reading about Africans and the environment, that I realized he was gardening the African way. My dad was being organic before we knew the word organic–basically composting and replenishing the soil for the next season naturally and without chemical fertilizers.

Did he learn this method in his youth? I know he worked in a banana business with Boss, his stepfather in Jamaica. When I call home the next time, I’ll ask!

2004: Mowing His Lawn