In Conversation with Philip O’Neal of Green DMV

GREEN DMV is a non-profit that promotes clean energy and green jobs as a means of diminishing poverty in low-income communities in the United States.  Philip O’Neal and Rhon Hayes are the co-founders.

Dianne: Philip, let’s start by writing poems that includes themes of nature.  I’ll write one too inspired by your verses.

Philip:

Winter’s magic in grandma’s garden, deep roots, moments of loneliness, feeling forgotten, and silenced.

While Grandma, warm, weaves her basket with the thoughts of strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes and egg-plant.

D: I like it. Grandma! Fruits and vegetables. Here’s mine . . . borrowing some style from ee cummings . . .

i dream

of stark trees through

eight window panes in a row

like sentinels

waiting

first glance desolation

future

spring hides under brown, grey, and silver bark

leaves wait for warmer days to unfurl

winter is not desolate

breath exhaled

spring

D: We spoke–a short conversation–for the first time a few weeks ago. I would like to know more about you.

P: I was born and raised in Elizabeth City, NC. Attended Elizabeth City State University. I’m married to my beautiful wife of 7 years Danielle, with one son Logan and a little princess on the way in May. Danielle and I lived in Atlanta for 4 years, before moving to Washington DC in 2004.

D: What led you to become an environmentalist?

P: The first person who made me realize I was an environmentalist was Dr. Robert Bullard, a long time educator and environmental justice activist who teaches at Clark-Atlanta University. In 2007 I heard him speak on a panel at a Congressional Black Caucus forum on Climate Change. A statement that I will never forget is when he said. “If you drink water, eat food or breathe air. Or any two out of the three, then you’re an environmentalist”

D: Ah yes, Dr. Bullard! He has clearly influenced your thinking. Any other influences?

P: I can’t pick one person that has been the greatest influence in my efforts. But I feel that my thinking was cultivated from academics such as W.E.B. Dubois and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, civil rights leaders such as Dr. King and Gandhi, to environmental leaders past and present from Dr. Bullard to Al Gore. Between each name, I can fit a hundred or more names, it’s that many! I represent the sum of many individual ideals mixed in with my own little individual flavor.

D: How did you and Rhon come up with the idea to launch greendmv.org?
P: It kind of organically happened, (no pun intended). I call it strategic intuition. We knew the green movement was going to be the next boom, and we knew historically low-income communities and communities of color typically don’t get the information early enough to take advantage of ground floor economic movements. So we made it our mission to insure the left out communities of the past, would be locked in the green economy of the future.

D: Tell me about the contributions of others working for and with Green DMV.

P: We have relied heavily on volunteers. For the first 2 years, Green DMV was funded from our own pockets. After out first two grant requests were denied, we just found creative ways to get things done, like organizing volunteers and making our organization attractive to supporters. Since then, we’ve received support from Home Depot, Whole Foods, Giant Foods, City Governments and more.

D: Yes, the hard work in environmentalism relies heavily on the work and good will of volunteers. Another question: why do you think clean energy and green jobs are important?

P: Environmentally, this is the most important work that needs to be done. Economically, because these are the jobs of the future. If you take a look around, it’s very rare that you see a solar panel on a person’s home. Now let’s take a look in the future. It will be very rare not to see solar powered home. Between now and then, somebody has to do this work and currently the workforce doesn’t exist to supply the demand of all those projects. Somebody has to train and hire this new workforce. So why not train the people who have had barriers to employment for this new industry?

D: How can environmentally conscious energy and jobs change our lives here in the United States?

P: A new industry will be created to boost our economy, which will support jobs in both metropolitan and rural cities and towns.

D: What is our responsibility as individuals and a nation to the rest of world when it comes to protecting the environment and its resources?

P: All I ask is that we be conscious of little negative acts. That’s all. If you can just ask yourself a question, “Am I doing the right thing?”, even if you do the wrong thing after that, I’d be happy.

D: Could you share something about Green DMV’s latest initiative?
P: In partnership with the District of Columbia and AARA, GREEN DMV is taking on the daunting task of educating the entire faith-based community of Washington DC, to take part in the efforts to fight poverty and pollution in our Nation’s Capitol. We’re calling this “The Green Faith Initiative- One Green City Through Faith.” The church is the backbone of the community and there is no way we can inform poor communities effectively without the support and efforts of the faith-based community.

D: Do you spend time outdoors? What is your favorite activity? Do you hike? If so where? A favorite park?

P: Honestly, My favorite activity is doing spontaneous things with my family. Living in Washington DC, there’s just so much history and things to do.

D: How is Barack Obama doing concerning the environment? Michelle Obama?

P: Well, President Obama just isn’t the first black president; he’s the first green president. Approving 500 Million dollars for Green Job Training, he get’s it and now after the State of the Union Address, he’s focusing on getting them all employed in the green sector. Michelle is focused on the greening of our bodies with the Let’s Move initiative. She’s ensuring that we have healthy schools and fit kids.

D: Thank you, Philip. I look forward to ways Green DMV will continue to change the green economy.

Photos Courtesy of Green DMV

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