I’m celebrating my newest shero, Angelou Ezeilo. The environmental advocate and author of a new book will be speaking in Lawrence on February 20, 2020. Everyone concerned about diversity in our environment will want to learn from this experienced change maker.
As the Founder and CEO of Greening Youth Foundation, she is creating career pathways for diverse youth into environmental stewardship work. Angelou Ezeilo's new book is Engage, Connect, Protect: Empowering Diverse Youth as Environmental Leaders. She took time to answer some of my questions below and I’m looking forward to learning much more during her visit.
SB: Now that you have been doing this great work with Greening Youth Foundation for more than 13 years and you began by teaching young children about the environment, are there successful adults now in environmental careers who you influenced as children?
AE: What a great question. The answer is YES! One young lady in particular that comes to mind is Kelly Costello. She was the president of our environmental club, Eco Force at Brookwood Elementary in Gwinnett County, GA; this is about 13 years ago. Ms. Costello is now a junior in college and is leading many environmental initiatives at University of Georgia as an environmental studies major. I have no doubt that Kelly will continue to be a change leader in the environmental sector.
There are many more however another young lady that stands out came to us a member of our Urban Youth Corps. Although her immediate surroundings were very challenging, she adamantly told me that she would one day own her own company, like me. I am so proud to share that this young lady is now the owner of a painting company that she runs with two other entrepreneurs. 3 Girls and a Paintbrush. So proud!
SB: Who do you admire?
AE: My all-time favorite Shero is Dr. Wangari Maathai, opens a new window. She is the first African woman to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for her work in sustainable agriculture in Kenya. The Greenbelt Movement is now led by her daughter Muta Mathai.
I also admire my parents Helen and Walter Chiles. Sounds cliché and cheesy, but it’s true! They have been married for 61 years and continue to love and support themselves and their 3 grown children and their children. They have owned many businesses over the past few decades while instilling in their children the importance of community, love and integrity. To know them is to love them.
SB: In your book, you shared an experience with someone yelling at you; it felt like a racist attack at you and a companion and you needed to travel back home to feel safe. Would you share some of your strategies to ensure the young people you send to remote or less diverse areas are safe?
AE: That incident you mentioned is why our organization implements a buddy system. As most of the places we send our interns to across the country typically do not have a large constituency of diverse people, we send them in pairs of two so that they are not alone. As we know, difference often promotes fear which leads to ignorance and bigotry. As such, when first interviewing young adults for these positions we first determine whether they have a strong character because we know that they will be on the frontlines at some parks/forests/refuges and in many cases will be diversifying the site. Our project managers mentor the interns and provide as much support as possible in addition to multiple site visits.
SB: Please tell me about one of your favorite parks? What makes it a favorite place for you?
AE: My favorite park is Grand Tetons. I literally began to cry the first time I encountered the majestic mountains. I feel a strong spiritual connection—almost cathartic—to the outdoors and nature when I am at this park. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
SB: Do you plan to visit any natural areas during your visit to our area?
- We have a large area of restored wetlands in town, including wetlands at Haskell Indian Nations University, opens a new window and the adjacent Baker Wetlands, opens a new window that attracts a high diversity of wildlife and offer plenty of walking trails that make this area fairly accessible.
- Other habitat options in the area include a 7-acre tallgrass prairie at the Prairie Park Nature Center, opens a new window and even more natural areas, opens a new window are within easy reach.
- Also Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site, opens a new window is nearby in Topeka with the Landon Nature Trail, opens a new window.
AE: I would love to! Your recommendations sound amazing.
SB: Who are your favorite authors?
AE: Maya Angelou, opens a new window, James Baldwin, opens a new window, Octavia Butler, opens a new window and Deepak Chopra, opens a new window
SB: What books are you reading now?
AE: I read multiple types of books at a time. I’m currently reading:
- Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, opens a new window by Beth Kempton
- The Water Dancer, opens a new window by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, opens a new window by Deepak Chopra
SB: What question do you wish someone would ask you? And would you share your answer?
AE: What keeps me up at night? Because I am such an empathic person, it’s hard for me to turn off concern for individuals. I almost never feel I have done enough to help. I guess I take the verse, to whom much is given much will be required, quite literally.
Meet author Angelou Ezeilo in Lawrence on February 20, 2020 at Liberty Hall! Ezeilo will be in conversation with Jasmin Moore, the Sustainability Director for Douglas County and the City of Lawrence.
If you are as excited as I am about this event, consider sharing the news. Link to the Facebook event post to share, opens a new window.
More details about the event are available from the Library's website here: https://lawrence.bibliocommons.com/events/5daf2d3066a9f12300fb3f82, opens a new window
Engage, Connect, Protect, opens a new window is Angelou Ezeilo’s debut book. The Raven Book Store will have copies of her book for purchase and a signing will follow her talk.
This thought-provoking and practical read has heartfelt personal and professional stories of connecting and advocating for the natural world. Read more about the book in my full-length review, linked here, opens a new window.
Thanks to the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund, opens a new window for making this event possible.
Gratitude to the community groups who shared excerpts of this interview and otherwise shared news of Angelou Ezeilo's visit:
- The Spot Mag, opens a new window
- The Resilient Activist, opens a new window
- NAACP Lawrence, Kansas Branch, opens a new window
- LETUS Lawrence Ecology Teams United in Sustainability, opens a new window
- Lawrence & Douglas County Sustainability, opens a new window
- Kansas Native Plant Society, opens a new window
- Kansas Land Trust, opens a new window
- KACEE Kansas Association for Conservation & Environmental Education, opens a new window
- Jayhawk Audubon Society, opens a new window
- Heartland Conservation Alliance, opens a new window
- Haskell Indian Nations University, opens a new window
- Friends of the Kaw - Kansas Riverkeeper, opens a new window
- East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, opens a new window
- Deep Roots KC, opens a new window
- Baker Wetlands Discovery Center, opens a new window
Cover image credits: Angelou Ezeilo photo courtesy of Greening Youth Foundation, opens a new window. Tallgrass Prairie photo by Shirley Braunlich.
-Shirley Braunlich is a Readers’ Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.