Past Event

Greening the Southside?

“Finding gold in trash,” is one way that Chicago’s Black communities can take advantage of the coming green economy, says Naomi Davis, founder of the environmental nonprofit Blacks in Green. How can the green movement help revitalize some of Chicago’s communities?

Join us as we tackle this question in an intimate Café Society discussion with special guest Naomi Davis, President and Founder of Blacks in Green who will help kick-off this community dialogue. The conversation will be facilitated by Natalie Moore, Chicago Public Radio’s South Side Bureau Reporter.

This event is free and open to the public. Reservations are required and can be made online, by email at, or by calling 312.422.5580.

Read the full topic summary below!

More about Naomi Davis

Naomi Davis is an urban theorist, attorney, activist, and proud granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers. She is President and founder of BIG: Blacks in Green.™ Before specializing in green community education and trade with BIG™, Naomi served as Manager of Marketing/Business Partnerships, Advertising & Membership at the League of Chicago Theatres. In 1988 she founded the public affairs and marketing communications firm, Song Shakir Davis, with a focus on political campaign management in judicial elections. She’s a graduate of Fisk University with a double major in Speech & Drama and English and a Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. Naomi is a Green For All Fellow and serves on the GreenFestival Host Committee, Chicagoland Green Collar Jobs Initiative Steering Committee, Climate Justice Chicago Advisory Board, and Environmental Justice Magazine Editorial Board. For her work in green community economic development, Naomi has received Lt. Governor Pat Quinn’s 2007 Environmental Hero Award, the 2008 Chicago Magazine Green Award, the 2009 Jewel-Osco Environmental Stewardship Award, and the 2010 Citizen Newspapers “10 Community Leaders To Watch.”

More about Natalie Moore

Natalie Y. Moore is Chicago Public Radio’s South Side Bureau Reporter. She’s a co-author of Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look Back at Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation and an adjunct instructor at Columbia College. Her work has been published in Essence, Black Enterprise, the Chicago Reporter, Bitch, In These Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune. Prior to joining the Chicago Public Radio staff in May 2007, Natalie was a city hall reporter for the Detroit News. She has also been an education reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and a reporter for the Associated Press in Jerusalem.

This event is presented by The Public Square and Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ 91.5FM.

Greening the Southside?

Green isn’t just a color, it’s a phrase used to refer to environmental awareness. But what does it mean to work green? Can working green save the planet and the people that inhabit it, one neighborhood at a time? Naomi Davis, founder and CEO of Blacks in Green (BIG), seems to think so. This education and advocacy group is focused on ushering blacks on the Southside into the new green economy. Davis says, “We’re going into the bars, the parks, the churches, the schools, the stores with this new green-economy education. We have to spread the word. Otherwise, people of color are going to be left behind.”

Naomi Davis and BIG aren’t alone. Many environmentalists of color see the new green economy as way to help revitalize communities while simultaneously helping to save planet earth. One example they point to is the $787 billon federal stimulus package, which had $80 billon earmarked for clean energy and other green initiatives. Another indicator of the move to green is Van Jones, former White House special advisor for green jobs, whose mission is to bring poor people of color off the sidelines and into the center of the eco-conversion. In 2007 Jones, founded the NGO Green for All, whose mission is to “build an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.”

So what is a green job? The Center for American Progress (CAP), where Jones now serves as a Senior Fellow, says that:

“Green jobs represent a new demand for labor that results from investments in transitioning our economy away from carbon-intensive energy, minimizing degradation of our natural resources, maximizing the efficient use of our natural capital, and protecting humans and the planet from pollution and waste.”  Examples can be anything from home weatherization to solar roof paneling to urban organic farming or green grocers.

Supporting eco-consciousness and green jobs benefiting the environment and the people who inhabit it seems a no-brainer, right? Well, not exactly. Chicago Public Radio’s Natalie Moore reports, “To some African American leaders, global warming is just another crisis dragging attention away from more serious problems. Reverend James Meeks: ‘I’m afraid to death that some more of these kids are going to get killed before the earth warms over. We need to deal with gun violence rather than global warming.’”

Should environmental awareness be at the forefront of our efforts? Chicagoan LaDonna Redmond says yes. She sees the green economy as a way to potentially curb violence by engaging young people and promoting a healthy lifestyle. Redmond’s grocery store, Graffiti and Grub, recently opened in Englewood and employs local teenagers from the community. According to the blog post, “Fighting for Healthy Food” on Just Means, “Graffiti and Grub aims to serve as a community wellness center of sorts, promoting Redmond’s idea of SOUL food: Sustainable Organic Urban and Local food. Food is a powerful cultural touchstone that she feels needs to be restored to the black community, as well as other ethnic communities, in order to make the shift away from fast food and towards local, organic, good food.”
Some like Dawn Moody, an African-American green-collar worker in Philadelphia with the Energy Coordinating Agency, think the move towards green job development is a way to help communities that have been left behind. She said, “The best thing about my job is that I help people conserve energy and put a few extra dollars in their pocket. They don’t have to choose between buying groceries in the refrigerator or heating their house. [Working green] means that 25-30 years from now, my grandchildren will be able to benefit from the energy conservation of my generation.”

Eco-activists say green jobs not only help those employed, but those living in the community benefit from the work as well. That work can include grocery stores offering up organic goods, and other essential businesses, within walking distance of people’s homes, or agencies that work with the community to conserve energy, promote recycling or reduce pollution. In the end, how many of us can say that our jobs directly benefit the planet and those set to inherit it?

How can we use a budding green economy to revitalize our communities? How can environmental consciousness combat more immediate community concerns, such as youth violence? In what ways are green collar jobs the new blue collar? What does green living mean to you? What evidence are you seeing of society moving towards a green economy? How can we support green business? In what ways can green collar jobs help revitalize the larger economy?

Suggested Resources

If you need a sign interpreter or require other arrangements to fully participate, please call 312.422.5580. For parking locations near the facility, please visit