Open question: Should we form a statewide Team?

If this question has been on your mind, it might help to know you’re not alone.

We’ve been noticing some conversation recently about whether or not to combine Teams in some states across the U.S.

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Currently, there are 517 Connector Teams in the U.S.
(photo by Tom via Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Connector Jack Lockwood from Georgia—a large state with both urban and rural areas—argues the pros:

By being part of a statewide Team, isolated pockets of people would still get support from each other and still be able to work together on common problems. As a by product, people could get a better idea about issues that impact their whole state and also network with people from other areas but are still passionate about the state they live in.

Another reason to have statewide Teams is that there are people who may volunteer with Idealist but may have jobs or personal connections to other people throughout the state and could work together on advocacy, policy and laws that could impact everyone living in the state.

I think a statewide Team could also help as a strikeforce for local Teams as needed. For example. I have knowledge about writing grants but suppose my local Team does not currently need that skill. By also serving as a resource on a stateside team I would be able help another local state team as needed.

Connector Cindy Matthews from Ohio—a smaller state by comparison—speaks to the cons:

I think the main disadvantages to forming a statewide Team (in Ohio at least) are the differences in the areas/concerns in different parts of the state. Some areas of Ohio are rural and small-town oriented (like where I’m living) and others are metropolitan in their outlook (such as Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo, Cincinnati, etc.).

The cultures are different, the economies are different, and the square miles in a rural setting could prevent people from joining a Team because of travel costs/times involved. (Rural gasoline prices tend to be higher, we don’t have public transport, and we’re already forced to drive into cities for our medical appointments, shopping, to find work or attend college, etc.)

Regional Teams (smaller than a state, bigger than one town) possibly are the answer.

Our developers are currently working on offering the ability to consolidate Teams in major metropolitan areas, and exploring more combinations as well.

Before we do anything further, we’d love to hear from you: Does it make sense to merge Teams or stay separate where you live? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Meet a Connector: Nick in Atlanta, Georgia

If there’s one thing Nick Reynolds learned from his time in Peace Corps Ukraine, it’s this: meeting in-person is always a good idea.

“In Ukraine, you only knew something was definitely going to happen when you had that face-to-face meeting. When you looked that other person in the eye and said, ‘This is how it’s going to happen, this is what we’re going to do, right?’ And if they said ‘yes,’ you could count on it,” he says.

As the Community Manager for the Idealist Atlanta local page and a member of the Atlanta Connector Team, Nick has transferred that lesson to meeting in person with local organizations to see what they’re up to and share more about how Idealist can support their work.

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The MLK grave site, near the King Center in Atlanta
(image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

His first step is always encouraging employees to create an Idealist profile if they haven’t done so already. And nine times out of ten, they’re likely to pop up on the site if he’s had the opportunity to shake their hand.

He also plants himself at a local cafe each Monday for anyone—organizations, Idealist community members, Connectors—to chat.

“I consider myself to be an involved person. If there’s an opportunity to serve and I can’t come up with a reason not to do it, I’m going to wind up doing it,” he says.

Nick hopes the Idealist Network will help make more in-person connections in Atlanta that will lead to greater resource-sharing among organizations and more people getting involved in the causes they believe in. Living in the birthplace of the civil rights movement, he’d be hard pressed not to.

“[Atlanta] is a beacon of activism,” he says. “You can’t drive through the city without passing something that reminds you that the potential for positive change is here if you just get involved and engaged.”

Do you live in the Atlanta area? Join Nick! Not in Atlanta? Look for a Connector Team near you.

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Fight for Light: Bringing clean, green awareness to black campuses

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of organizations working to increase awareness of climate change. If you take a step back though, it’s apparent that there are quite a few issues and population segments that are underrepresented in the environmental community.

One of these issues is how climate change affects people of color and the poor, and one of the most underrepresented groups of people in the environmental sector is African Americans.

Due to heat waves and air pollution in cities and increasing energy and food prices, climate change is poised to have a disproportionately large and negative effect on the urban African American community. African Americans are also generally underrepresented in the staff of environmental organizations, both public and private.

In 2009, Markese Bryant and John Jordan saw these growing problems as a call to raise awareness of environmental issues among African Americans. Then students at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, they teamed up and formed Fight for Light, which works “to transform Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into hubs for environmental sustainability and social innovation.”

Almost five years later, Markese and John are the leaders of a thriving nonprofit organization that’s inspiring campus leaders across the nation to become more environmentally active.

How did they do it?

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John Jordan, left, and Markese Bryant.
(photo via fightforlight.org)

Find something you care about

It may seem obvious, but it’s essential to devote your time to an issue that really resonates with you. If you plan on turning an idea into something concrete, you’ll have to be prepared to spend a lot of time working on it.

Before they formed Fight for Light, Markese and John had been concerned about the environment as well as the lack of African American representation in many professional settings. After reading The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, Markese and John became interested in the idea of a “Green New Deal,” which would help lift people out of poverty while also encouraging the use of alternative energy sources and promoting conservation. Knowing this was something they could feel good about putting time into, they moved onto the next step.

Start small

Once Markese and John decided what to focus on, they wanted to get right to work. However, they were both still undergraduates, and couldn’t immediately invest all their energy into Fight for Light. So they started with small steps, first entering a nationwide student business competition and collaborating with organizations that shared their vision.

In 2010, Markese partnered with Green for All and helped develop the College Ambassador Program. This program encourages young leaders at 15 HBCUs to become advocates around the environmental issues that affect their communities. One year later, John began to manage a large grant given to Morehouse by the National Science Foundation, which helped Fight for Light encourage sustainability among the student body and also led to him managing student engagement at Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

Somehow in that mix, Markese also found the time to team up with Green for All to film this music video:

Get support

All their efforts eventually led to a big reward. In 2012, Markese and John were selected as Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellows in recognition of their several years of slow but steady awareness-raising about environmental issues on HBCU campuses. With the fellowship came financial help and the freedom to turn Fight for Light into something bigger.

Expand

With the support provided by Echoing Green, Markese and John are now increasing the reach of Fight for Light across the country. Markese recently traveled to Nashville to serve as a keynote speaker at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference, while both Markese and John traveled with students from the Atlanta University Center to the Power Shift 2013 conference in Pittsburgh.

As Fight for Light makes new contacts and continues to expand outside of the Atlanta metro area, its core mission remains the same. Every day, more students at HBCUs come into contact with the organization, and each new supporter is a fresh voice in the environmental awareness movement.

Your turn

How can you get involved? If you’re interested in raising awareness of environmental issues, particularly at HBCUs, just get in contact with Markese or John. If you like what Fight for Light is doing, follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

What other organizations or people do you know who are addressing issues at the intersection of climate change and minority communities?

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