"Blacks Going Green in Memphis Could Fill a Book"

Mayor AC Wharton accepted the surprise award for his innovative project "Sustainable Shelby: A Future of Choice, Not Chance" and also presented a recyclable Key to Shelby County to guest speaker Dr. Sharon T. Freeman, author of "Blacks Living Green" on her first (and hopefully not her last) visit to Memphis.

Dr. Freeman was delighted with the award and Memphis hospitality during her visit. She told the crowd of about 100 people, that the African-American "Green" role models in our community could fill a book. To find out more about the night, the award recipients, and read Chris Peck's article in The Commercial Appeal click below.

After receiving his award, Mayor Wharton said that our local agrarian heritage is a strong foundation for a sustainable green lifestyle in our urban environment, a gift from our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. He proudly chuckled that his 92-year-old grandmother will not come to the phone to talk to him when she's working in her garden.

The other nine award recipients: Dr. Stanley Abell, Hazel Burks, Pearlie Estes, Andree Glenn, Calvin Robinson, Frank D. Robinson, Shawn Posey, and Sandra Upchurch. FfOR congratulates and thanks these distinguished Memphians for their notable contributions and their inspiring examples of keeping Memphis sustainably green and advancing our reputation as a "City Beautiful".

For more information about "Blacks Living Green" and the award program hosted by Don Richardson and Rita Harris of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program/Chickasaw Group and by Onie Johns of Caritas, click HERE.

Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck attended the event and covered it in his Sunday column:
Inside the Newsroom: Green before green was cool
Sunday, April 19, 2009

''Blacks Living Green'' is the title of Sharon Freeman's latest book.

She came to Memphis a few days ago to learn whether this majority African-American city is interested in this story line.

Freeman was stunned at the turnout for her reading.

''To see all of these Memphians tonight is very, very encouraging,'' Freeman told the packed house at Caritas Village, an inner-city community center, coffee shop and art studio where there wasn't a spare seat on the night she came to talk.

Freeman explained how each chapter of ''Blacks Living Green'' tells a personal story about small, smart steps African-Americans around the country are taking to sustain their local environments.

There is the story of Fredrick Carter, a Mississippi-born businessman-turned-farmer who explains his journey from working as a General Motors contractor to operating the Black Oaks Center outside of Chicago, where he teaches city kids about gardening, cutting your carbon footprint and tapping into alternative energy.

The remarkable tale of Phyllis Perrin Harris gets a chapter, too. Harris, who spent 20 years with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, was hired by Wal-Mart as its environmental compliance officer. Her charge: Help Wal-Mart become powered by 100 percent renewable energy and create zero environmental waste through its packaging.

As good as these stories are, they weren't the best part of Freeman's visit. The most moving stories came from real people in Memphis who were honored by the local Chickasaw Sierra Club chapter for environmental work done by African-Americans right here.

-- Sandra Upchurch, a chemistry teacher in Memphis City Schools who has developed a green training program to help inner-city high school students learn about alternative energy.

-- Shawn Posey, a forester for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture who is helping Memphis become a Tree City, whereby we value and nurture our trees and quit butchering them with bad pruning and worse land-use planning.

-- Rev. Ralph White, an inner-city pastor who tirelessly melds environmental cleanup efforts near old industrial sites in his South Memphis neighborhood with community education on environmental justice for the poor.

-- Pearlie Estes, a Memphis master gardener who teaches others how to grow a beautiful garden in an urban setting.

-- Calvin Robinson, the manager of T.O Fuller State Park and someone who works daily to create a beautiful, quiet green space for all Memphians to enjoy.

-- Hazel Burks, a FedEx retiree who now talks all over Memphis about the value of maintaining good health in one's personal life by eating right, and maintaining good health in the community by treating the natural world gently through recycling, reusing and reducing the human impact on where we live.

-- Andree Glenn, who, after the infamous Hurricane Elvis in 2003, helped organize ''Neighbors for Trees'' in the Vollintine-Evergreen community to replace the greenery that was blown down.

-- Dr. Stanley Abell, a LeMoyne-Owen College professor who teaches young black college students the basics of environmental science and runs a workshop called the Saturday Academy of Environmental Education and Awareness.

-- Frank D. Robinson, an artist who takes found objects that others might consider throwaways and makes sculpture and other imaginative artworks.

The last environmental award winner of the night was Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton. His crusading efforts to convene a coalition of business interests to create a sustainable environmental consciousness for Shelby County are well documented.

The mayor recalled that as a child growing up in Middle Tennessee, he didn't ever hear terms such as "sustainability" or "environmentally aware."

Those fancy words weren't part of his African-American family's life a half-century ago.

"'But my mother said you don't fool Mother Nature,'' the mayor recalled. ''And she always planted a big garden, without any fertilizer. And we breathed clean air. And we drank fresh water. So our family knew all about sustainability.''

The same would be true of many African-American families in Memphis today, the mayor noted. The value of reducing one's consumption, reusing that which was around you, and recycling everything from motor oil to grass clippings are ideas that have simply been baked into family life for decades.

''We started out being green and didn't even know it,'' the mayor laughed.

The crowd nodded.

They knew what he was talking about.