The Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability, or FLOWS Program, at CU Boulder, helps bridge social justice and environmental issues by giving leadership training opportunities, green job skills, and free energy and water upgrades to the communities who need it most. KGNU is partnering with FLOWS for a new series on grassroots sustainability. The series is made possible by a grant from Boulder County. KGNU’s Hannah Leigh Myers brings us this report on FLOWS and the link they’re creating between environmental and social justice issues by visiting homes in low-income communities
“The smallest carbon footprints are from low-income community members. We’re trying to raise up awareness about that leadership. We’re trying to help that community find more voice in leadership,” says Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, Energy & Climate Justice Manager at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Environmental Center.
Michelle is also a coordinator for The Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability or FLOWS leadership program at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“I’ve really been trying to work on trying to change the narrative that to be an environmentalist and to be leaders in sustainability is to enlist, high income or white or a guy. So, part of the idea of today and really part of the idea of FLOWS from the beginning was highlighting the leadership of low-income communities, diverse groups of students and diverse community members,” says Gabrieloff-Parish.
Most of the FLOWS leaders are themselves people of color, many of whom have experienced hardship and bring their own sustainability experience to the table.
“Oh, there’s a bunch we can learn from my country, Haiti,” says FLOWS community leader Peterson Jean. Like many immigrants, Peterson finds multiple non-environmentally friendly western norms distressing and unnecessary.
“Everybody has their own car. Like, one car, one person! What the heck! Nobody shares! Even in a house of five people everyone has their own car,” says Peterson.
Peterson was already doing sustainability work in Haiti before coming to the U.S. but he believes the connections and knowledge he’s growing in FLOWS is valuable on a technical and personal level. “I can learn more from them and if I go back to my country I can teach more. I can be more involved. I’ve always seen myself as a leader and now I can see it more. Now I can say it’s more strong with FLOWS,” says Peterson.
Empowering and educating eco-leaders of all backgrounds, races, ages and genders is what FLOWS is about at its core. And Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish believes their work connecting social justice and environmentalism is about more than creating equity, it’s a vital step for the overall success of the sustainability movement. “So, it’s actually imperative to sustainability that we get leadership and these voices heard because we will not get where we need to go without everybody,” says Gabrieloff-Parish.