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Black, brown—and green

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With the world awakening to economic and environmental crises, a newly emerging Black Brown and Green Alliance in Durham is organizing to seize the strategic moment to blaze a sustainable and just economic path.

"There's going to be money reviving the economy," says Alice Loyd, formerly of the N.C. Council of Churches. "So we want to be sure people that are underrepresented in the old economy are not underrepresented in the new green economy."

Last year, Grassroots Energy Alliance (GEA) approached the North Carolina NAACP to collaborate on a green jobs agenda. "[NAACP President] Reverend Barber came up with the idea for a pilot green jobs program in Durham, so the idea was to bring people together into a broader alliance around that idea. This became the Black Brown Green Alliance," explains Pete McDowell, program director at NC WARN.

As a first step, the NAACP and GEA organized a green jobs conference at N.C. Central University last fall. More than 30 organizations, green businesses and educational institutions participated in the discussion and planning for the Durham green jobs pilot program.

Who's in the BBGA?

It is comprised of Grassroots Energy Alliance (GEA), which includes social justice organizations N.C. Fair Share; N.C. Interfaith Power and Light, based at the N.C. Council of Churches; N.C. Waste Awareness Reduction Network (NC WARN); Students United for Responsible Global Environment (SURGE); and N.C. Central University's environmental sciences department.

In early 2009, the BBGA remains a work in progress. Members are wrestling with the challenge of moving beyond the alliance-building phase toward funding formal projects.

"Not everybody sees eye to eye on things yet. It's like bringing a child into the world—you've got to try to have everything right ahead of time," reflected LeDarrell Murray after a recent BBGA meeting. Murray, an avid gardener and a member of NCCU security staff, heard about the Alliance via a flyer on the campus and is involved in several of the Alliance's working groups.

Alliance members confront the challenge of bridging a historically very white environmental movement with social and racial justice movements. "Working across racial lines with different cultural expectations can be challenging. We all have to be able to learn cultural norms of different groups to communicate effectively and not have communication set us back," Loyd says.

Challenges aside, there is a sense of urgency among Alliance members. The Obama administration's stimulus bill contained $5 billion for weatherization of buildings, plus a variety of incentives for renewable energy initiatives, which will be disbursed over the next two years. GEA members want to direct some of those funds into projects that will fundamentally reshape the economy.

McDowell acknowledges there is no guarantee this funding will help those who need jobs the most. "Unless a concerted effort is made to train and retrain and provide entryways for marginalized communities," he said, "green collar jobs could just go to those with the most access to education." The race and class divide is deep, but the BBGA has a dream. They see a bold new green economy on both sides of the tracks.

Correction (April 24, 2009): Alice Loyd's name was misspelled in the print version of this story.

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