If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. -Lilla Watson
Friends of Trees is incensed and stands in solidarity with the Black community. We add our voice to the many groups and institutions this week calling for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Aubrey, and too many others.
It is undisputed that Black, Indigenous, and all people of color bear a disproportionate impact of racial injustice and its deadly consequences. Environmental justice is among these systemic inequalities. FOT acknowledges that the Black community is more impacted by respiratory illnesses due to poor air quality making them more vulnerable. At Friends of Trees, we believe the benefits of trees should be experienced by everyone: clean air, clean water, and healthy communities are human rights. We heartily commit to listening to community needs as we work for an environmentally just future where Black folks can breathe freely.
Just as trees are connected via their root systems and intertwine underground with fungi to exchange nutrients, carbon, and water in order to survive and thrive, so too are our human communities connected. When white supremacy and police brutality affect some, it is a blight on us all. Just like a tree community’s root systems, the onus is on those with resources to combat the disease.
Friends of Trees is responding to the call for action and encourages you to join. Each and every one of us can use our voices to support the Black community. We urge you to get involved.
Whitney Dorer, Interim Executive Director
Phoebe Krueger, Board Chair
Environmentalists For Black Lives Matter image by @greengirlleah
The Blueprint Foundation | The Black Parent Initiative | Black Lives Matter: PDX | PAALF | Equitable Giving Circle | The Black Resilience Fund | NAACP Portland | Eugene Springfield NAACP | Urban League of Portland | Coalition of Communities of Color | Momentum Alliance | Self Enhancement, Inc. | Campaign Zero | Don’t Shoot Portland | Black United Fund of Oregon
“CBO partnerships are especially important for an environmental organization like Friends of Trees because they help us effectively reach low income communities and communities of color, communities that are impacted first and the most by climate change.” -Surabhi Mahajan, Friends of Trees’ Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Specialist
Trees + community is so much more than volunteers planting trees together. True community means that a diverse population has access to all of the benefits of trees, especially historically underserved communities of color. And in order to reach diverse communities we need a diverse range of partnerships.
Friends of Trees is fortunate to enjoy some amazing partnerships, and some particularly amazing partnerships are with Community Benefit Organizations (CBOs). CBOs are community-based nonprofit organizations, are often culturally specific, and provide some sort of community benefit. An example in Portland is Verde, which among other services provides workforce training for the Latinx community.
Friends of Trees’ CBO partners include Verde, Wisdom of the Elders, Black Parent Initiative, the Blueprint Foundation, APANO, and POIC. Most of these organizations are partners in our Urban Forestry Training Program*, which helps connect adults to jobs in the Urban Forestry field (learn more about this program here). Beyond this joint endeavor our CBO partnerships take a few forms:
Verde and Wisdom of the Elders each support our tree planting work through planting event preparation, participation, and follow-up, including post-planting tree care. Verde also provides some contractor services at our Portland office on NE MLK Jr. Blvd (get to know more about Wisdom in the next story).
Black Parent Initiative is a community-based organization that serves Black families or families with Black children through home care visits, economic job opportunities, and other services. The FOT-BPI partnership supports connecting Black families in Portland to nature and to tree planting events, as well as connecting to job training programs in the urban forestry and restoration sector.
The Grounding Waters program of the Blueprint Foundation exposes Black urban youth to careers in environmental science, and paid workforce training with Friends of Trees is part of the program. Grounding Water youth train and participate in planting events as Crew Leaders; Grounding Waters youth will also train and participate as Summer Inspectors, checking on the health of trees planted through our Neighborhood Trees Program, which will provide additional learning opportunities. * Note: The Blueprint Foundation is not a current partner in the Urban Forestry Training program, but is considering the program.
Our partnership with the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO) focuses on the Jade Greening Project, which is working to increase the canopy of East Portland’s Jade District. Friends of Trees’ involvement includes tree-planting events and targeted community outreach toward getting more trees planted and volunteers engaged. A new feature of this partnership includes our first intern from APANO, whose focus has been supporting planting events through securing food donations from diverse neighborhood businesses and joining the planting teams.
Our partnership with Rosemary Anderson High School’s Portland Opportunity Industrialization Center (POIC) involves hands-on job training and leadership skill-building with high school students. Each season 10-14 POIC students train to be Crew Leaders and they participate in planning and leading Friends of Trees planting events; the students receive stipends as part of this program. Read more about this partnership in our December 2016 edition of Treemail.
Our CBO partnerships provide countless benefits, to both Friends of Trees and to our community. When youth are able to experience leadership positions, and when diverse communities have access to training that leads to internships and jobs with green organizations, preconceived barriers about green jobs and environmental engagement start to break down. Further, the youth interns can serve as role models for other youth volunteers, particularly for young people of color who can be inspired when someone who looks like them has a leadership role.
These partnerships also have an environmental justice aspect. Many of our partners and interns serve or live in under-canopied areas that experience greater impacts from climate change, such as heat islands. Involvement with community tree planting provides a way for participants to address some environmental inequities firsthand.
Equitable partnerships represent a core value of Friends of Trees and are critical to true community building, and we strive toward fostering this type of partnership in the work we do. We are thankful to the support of the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services and East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District for support that helps make these partnerships possible.
Pictured above: Urban Forestry Training Program participants from project partners POIC, APANO, Wisdom of the Elders, Verde, the Black Parent Initiative, and the Pathways to Farming program.
“One of the things I love most about Friends of Trees and this program is it’s helping me expand my understanding of community. I get to go to all of these places I never knew about and plant there. That is one of my things I’m personally striving for – learning more about my community.” Alyssa, POIC leader and Adult UF training program participant
Friends of Trees recognizes that not everyone has equal access to the benefits of urban trees and healthy green spaces. During the past five years, we have made concerted efforts to include equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of the organization, including hiring practices, volunteer recruiting, and planting street and yard trees in under-served, under-canopied neighborhoods. We also recognize that our region’s urban forestry landscape would benefit from EDI efforts, and the diverse communities we work to engage and serve would benefit from opportunities to engage directly with urban forestry.
Our Adult Urban Forestry Training & Internship Program, funded by the East Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, is a 12 week, paid training program focusing on urban forestry and restoration topics. The 12 program participants were selected by local Community Benefit Organizations (APANO, POIC, VERDE, and Wisdom of the Elders) that are also Friends of Trees partners. Program participants attended weekly training sessions focusing on landscape design, tree identification, tree maintenance, ecological site design, environmental justice, and careers in urban forestry.
Key components of this training program include classroom time, field work, and a session dedicated to resume-building and interview skills. Upon completion participants are connected with a 100 hour paid internship with local urban forestry or other restoration programs.
Friends of Trees’ Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Specialist Surabhi Mahajan talks about the community building that took place during the training,
“The best part about it for me was the community that was built with the training sessions. The first training session was a little bit awkward, not a lot of people were talking, people wanted more information about the program itself. But as the sessions went on, participants got comfortable with each other and learned from each other. Some folks had more knowledge about medicinal properties of trees and talked about it with other participants, others grew food in their community garden plots and brought hot peppers to share with everyone. There was such a sense of community with each other in the room that participants were asking me if we can all get together again outside of the training, ‘because we’ve built a sort of community together.’ I call that success!”
Multiple conservation issues are addressed through this program. Our experience is that in general our community is disconnected from their watersheds and the ongoing activities that improve natural areas, public green spaces, trees, and water quality. We created opportunities for Community Benefit Organizations to engage in this work and for communities of color to engage in workforce development opportunities in the conservation sector. Through this program we are also helping to restore a critical natural area (the Powell Butte Lower Flood Plain in SE Portland), planting street trees in Portland neighborhoods, and building connections between individuals and local leaders in the urban forestry field.
Above photo: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Friends of Trees Neighborhood Trees Vancouver Specialist Megan Van de Mark! Megan is demonstrating canopy spread during a program field trip at the Dharma Rain Zen Center.
Special thanks to Meyer Memorial Trust, whose grant support helps fund our new EDI Specialist position, which was critical to this training.
The Jade District in outer southeast Portland is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse census tracts in Portland, home to the city’s largest concentration of Asian Americans. The Jade District also experiences significant environmental health disparities, stemming from exposure to air toxins and lack of walk-ability/accessibility.
As part of the Jade Greening Project, Jade residents and community partners, including Friends of Trees, explored these issues and how to address them. We walked the Jade District, venturing into side streets and residential areas, making critical observations. Actions and strategies were informed by issues of equity and environmental justice, a commitment to engaging community voices, and ways to ensure the greening and revitalization– and not the gentrification- of the Jade District.
Friends of Trees’ involvement will contribute to the successful greening of the Jade District through continuing our tree-planting events in the area; translating materials for more successful outreach; offering leadership training opportunities so community members can get involved in neighborhood tree-plantings; offering additional tree planting opportunities along neighborhood greenways and safe routes to school; and, working with partners including APANO, OPAL, Portland Bureau of Environmental Services, Portland Parks and Recreation Urban Forestry and Jade District residents to raise awareness about the importance of a healthy urban forest to a healthy community.
Friends of Trees was honored to participate in the signing ceremony for this project through planting two trees (Princeton sentry ginkgo and Chinese pistache) to kick-off the greening, a fitting reflection of what it means to grow community.