By Julia Rhee. Crossposted from Global Grind.
If you ever meet Fergie, I’ll give you an inside tip: you don’t have to remind her that she’s much shorter than you expected. “I get that a lot,“ Fergie shrugged and smiled knowingly. At under 5’3” myself, I stood at eye level with the woman who made “lady lumps” an international sensation.
It was a night unlike any other. I was in Des Moines, Iowa, a stop on The Black Eyed Pea’s E.N.D. World Tour. I have been with the tour since February as an ambassador from the Pea’s non-profit partner, Green For All
, but still hadn’t met the band. And there I was, rubbing elbows with Taboo to my left, and talking about Filipino restaurants with Apl to my right.
Beyond the excitement of finally meeting the Peas, what made the night really special was that we had gathered to focus on community empowerment and green solutions, with two distinguished public servants: Governor Chet Culver and State Representative Wayne Ford of Iowa. Governor Culver and Representative Ford honored The Black Eyed Peas, Ludacris, and Green For All for our leadership in communities of color and innovation in the field of green jobs.
The Black Eyed Peas with Green For All Academy alumni Karen Monahan and Green For All Tour Ambassador Julia Rhee.
Beyond the celebrity glitz and backstage access, we were a group of people connecting over our shared desire to build a better world with communities in need of some change.
Accepting the award on Green For All’s behalf was a woman named Karen Monahan. When asked who could represent the work being done in America’s heartland to create new jobs that also improve the environment, Karen was an easy pick.
Born in Iran, Karen was adopted by American parents and moved to Springfield, Missouri, as an infant. Unfortunate events in her childhood led her into the foster care system, where she bounced from shelter to shelter. A mother at the age of 16, people wrote Karen off and thought she wouldn't amount to anything. But her foster-care attorney believed in her potential and helped Karen finish college.
With no family or home to turn to, Karen says she looked inward to find her own strength. Though she "might not have had a high school prom," Karen says, "I learned to have enormous empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and love for others."
Her experience showed her what it feels like to be given up on, and to be believed in, and motivated Karen to work for social justice. She began organizing for an inclusive green economy because it offers solutions to a range of issues like poverty, racism, environmental degradation, and community health.
Karen has been leading the way to widen green economic opportunity at Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota
. She’s also an alumni of the Green For All Academy
, our leadership training program for community leaders across the country.
The Green For All Academy invests in local leaders, mostly from low-income communities of color, who are leading the push for quality green jobs and opportunities in America’s cities and towns. It allows people like Karen to connect with one another, learn from each other, and grow skills that can help grow a movement. In Des Moines, Karen’s role as an alumni also helped her make a connection with Representative Ford. They decided right then and there, with the Peas looking on, to strengthen the partnership between Iowa and Minnesota to create more green jobs and other pathways out of poverty.
“That’s such a big highlight for me,” Monahan commented. “I got to talk with Representative Ford, and to know that there’s interest to bridge our work between our two states is incredible. Without this ceremony, I wouldn’t have been able to make that connection.”
A long-time advocate for lifting up inner-city communities, Representative Ford has been working with Green For All to transition Iowa to a future filled with renewable and clean energy possibilities. He hopes that recognizing the trail that The Black Eyed Peas have blazed with their lyrics promoting peace and justice will allow others to learn from their example.
The state of Iowa is taking bold steps to jumpstart local economies and revitalize community development in sustainable ways. Representative Ford and Governor Culver’s leadership demonstrates that a transition to a green economy is beneficial for communities of color, particularly in hard times.
Joining forces in Des Moines with Karen, the state of Iowa, The Black Eyed Peas and Ludacris, I got to feel what the rhythm of a new economy, one that is truly green for all, could be like.
To connect to Green For All on tour with The Black Eyed Peas, visit http://blackeyedpeas.greenforall.org/
or text GREENFORALL to 41411. Once you text, you’ll get a voice mail from The Peas and the chance to win a free t-shirt.