Breaking The Silence: building a real grassroots movement for sustainability

Authors: Richard Mabion, Green For All Fellow This week, on his 65th birthday, Richard Mabion (Green For All Fellow and Founder of Building Sustainable Communities, Kansas City, KA) took the time to reflect with me on what it takes to build a real grassroots movement for sustainability. This March, he held his Fourth Annual Breaking the Silence Conference, greatly informed by the knowledge and wisdom he's picked up during his sixty-five years on this planet. Why would an organization like Building a Sustainable Earth Community, organize a conference called, "Breaking the Silence?" As an African-American leader within the green movement, Mr. Mabion has identified a major gap in communication between environmental groups and low-income communities in Kansas City, resulting in two major problems: 1) Lack of environmental literacy among low-income residents, and 2) An environmental movement that doesn't speak to the needs and interests of the majority of the population. Being a solutions-oriented leader, Richard Mabion founded the Breaking the Silence conference to bring green groups and community people together for dialogue and collaboration. And in each of it's four years of existence, the conference has achieved greater success, defined by two key factors: 1) Increased participation (both in attendance and in community groups playing leadership roles in organizing the conference; and 2) Collaborations resulting from dialogue generated at the conference. Today Richard celebrates being able to move from being the sole organizer, to being more of a spindle upon which shared leadership spins. His approach has consistently been one of passing the torch and today that is more of a reality as he can name new leaders who have risen to the occasion. Equally worth celebrating, Mr. Mabion is seeing critical outcomes of the conference unfold, such as a budding collaboration between the Black Chamber of Commerce, the local PTA, the City, and local green groups to improve health education in low-income communities of Kansas City. So, how do you make a conference like Breaking the Silence successful? A critical component is on-the-ground recruitment. Richard attended neighborhood meetings across the city for months, educating people about energy efficiency and spreading the word about the conference. He auctioned off chunks of time at the conference for other organizations to coordinate, giving them the opportunity to recruit from their own memberships. In Richard's words, "It is truly becoming a 'people's' conference." For Richard Mabion, this work is not a job, it is a passion. He warns against the 'job' mentality. "If you're doing this because it's a job, then you're doing it for the wrong reasons… There are a lot of empty spaces in this world where things need to get done. If you're serious about life, you should start gearing yourself towards one of these spaces and start building your own mecca." And this is what Richard has dedicated his life to doing - identifying those empty spaces and taking the responsibility to do the work that needs to get done. It's this mentality that has earned him numerous awards, from Activist of the Year in the state of Kansas to his most recent 'Social Action Award' from the Midwest Sociological Society's Action Committee; but most importantly, it has earned him the respect of his community. Green For All Fellows, like Richard Mabion teach us that building an inclusive green economy is not just about green jobs, it is about building the leadership and knowledge necessary for our communities to create the world we want to live in through horizontal collaboration and self-determination. Learn more about Breaking the Silence Learn more about Richard Mabion

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