A partnership with Christ the King Service Corps is bringing Voices for Earth Justice its first full-time community relations director.
Julia Hall, a 2018 graduate of the University of Dayton, will join the VEJ team in June. Christ the King Service Corps will cover most of Hall's salary and provide housing and transportation. Hall will live just a short bike ride from VEJ's Hope House & Gardens.
"We are so thankful to Christ the King Service Corps for choosing Voices for Earth Justice as a partner," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "Having Julia full-time and living in the neighborhood will help us be more responsive to what our neighbors need and want from us."
Hall will be responsible for most activities that enhance VEJ's relationships with people and places that are part of its mission:
At Dayton, Hall was an intern and volunteer at Mission of Mary, an organization similar to VEJ. She was also editor of an arts magazine and the student newspaper, an experience that will prepare her to take over all of VEJ's communications and media (like this website). She also participated in Dayton's Summer in Appalachia program, studied in Ireland, and was a leader of the River Stewards program.
Look for an interview with Hall in an upcoming post.
Over the last couple of years, VEJ has been building a large neighborhood garden at the corner of Greydale and Puritan streets on the border of Detroit's Brightmoor and Old Redford neighborhoods. L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams, a student at the University of Michigan, was an intern who worked two summers in the garden.
Fresh from her graduation from U-M in April 2018, L'Oreal is now VEJ's garden leader. In her new role, she is responsible for the care and cultivation of the garden. More important, she is responsible for how the garden makes a real difference to the ecology and people of Brightmoor and Old Redford.
In addition to keeping track of what VEJ harvests from the garden in 2018, L'Oreal is also working to reach some other important "impact goals," such as:
The following is an interview in which L'Oreal shares more about herself and her plans for VEJ's garden program in 2018.
How does it feel to be leading the garden program after being an intern the last couple of years?
LH-W: It feels pretty good to have the opportunity to manage the garden program after interning the last few years. I just recently graduated from the University of Michigan and it is nice to be able to jump right into action.
What is your passion and purpose in life and how does leading the garden program help you live those things out?
LH-W: I'm passionate about a lot of things. To break it down into a few broad categories, I say I'm most passionate about environmental & social justice, life-long education and self sufficiency. Leading the garden program at VEJ is the perfect opportunity to practice all of those things in some aspect. I hope I can co-create a beautiful space with the Old Redford/Brightmoor community that will become an asset to the neighborhood.
Why is it important for Voices for Earth Justice to have a garden? To make gardening a big part of its mission?
LH_W: Our current food system is based on three crops: corn, soy and wheat. Massive mono-cultures of these crops disrupt ecosystem processes and harm our environment. The market is over-saturated with unhealthy processed foods that contribute to our nation's health crises. It is important for people to have as much agency over their lives as possible and learn how to exercise their right to fresh, healthy foods that they can can produce themselves. VEJ's mission to bring environmental awareness to the masses involves seeking out alternatives for people that will allow them to participate in repairing our world.
Describe your plan and your vision for the garden in 2018. What about your plan/vision is different/new from what we've done before?
LH-W: My plan is to establish a demonstration garden that will show different methods for growing, several intentional gathering spaces, as well as a new composting system. Utilizing permaculture principles, we're aiming to provide a space where people can get hands-on gardening education that promotes healthy living, self-reliance, and overall well-being. There will be signage to assist in the learning experience.
Tell us a little more about what kind of "demonstrations" the garden will have.
LH-W: We will highlight three different ways to grow food: Raised beds, Chinese beds, and Hugel beds. Signage will be in place to explain the methods. There will also be a pollinator box, mushroom patch, and tea/herb bed.
What are those three kinds of beds you mentioned?
LH-W: Raised garden beds are great for growing small plots of veggies and flowers. They keep pathway weeds from your garden soil, prevent soil compaction, provide good drainage, and serve as a barrier to pests such as slugs and snails.
With Chinese beds, mounded soil drains more quickly and warms up earlier in spring than the surrounding soil, making earlier planting possible. Once the beds are created from soil amended with plenty of compost, no further tilling is necessary.
Used for centuries in Eastern Europe and Germany, hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource.
What is a pollinator box?
LH-W: A pollinator box is a homemade bee house made from repurposed materials.
What kind of help and resources do we need from friends of Voices for Earth Justice to realize your vision?
LH-W: With this massive restructuring, we are in need of volunteers and tools. The plans are in place, we just need community support bring the dreams into reality. As well as volunteers, we need people to come and use the space! It is for the community. Help us to complete this transition so that we can be a a treasured resource for the Brightmoor community.
Now that you know how VEJ's garden program will make a bigger difference in 2018, will you help? Click on a button below to donate or volunteer.
The Voices for Earth Justice staff team--soon to be two full-time and two part-time persons--recently moved into summer office space at EcoWorks Detroit.
Not only will the EcoWorks office give the VEJ team a place to work, but it will make a big opportunity for cooperation and new ideas to blossom between the two organizations.
"EcoWorks and VEJ have a lot in common in terms of what we're trying to accomplish in Detroit and in society," said VEJ's executive director, BT Irwin. "I'm hopeful that both organizations will get a lot out of our people working side-by-side each day."
Live Coal Gallery, a community arts organization that helps Detroiters of all ages and life stages learn to express themselves through art, is opening its home office and studio at VEJ's Hope House & Gardens.
Detroit artist Yvette Rock started Live Coal in 2012 as an art museum on the first floor of her home in the Woodbridge neighborhood. In her museum, Rock hosted exhibitions by aspiring, emerging, and established Detroit artists like Gilda Snowden, Senghor Reid, Antoinette Connor, Shirley Woodson, Anita Bates, Bruce Griffin, and Reshaun Rucker.
In 2015, Rock set out to show other neighborhoods how to nurture their own artists and art scenes. She started Live Coal Arts Mobile, an traveling gallery and workshop space that helped aspiring artists all over the city.
Making Hope House & Gardens its home office and studio will make Live Coal Gallery easy to reach for people who live in Detroit's Brightmoor, Old Redford, and Riverdale neighborhoods. At Hope House & Gardens, Live Coal will offer art camps, classes, and exhibitions alongside VEJ's sustainable lifestyle programs.
"What an amazing thing to have Live Coal Gallery alongside us as a partner," said BT Irwin, VEJ's executive director. "It's not every day that one of the premier and most highly regarded small arts organizations in the region sets up shop on your block. We are so excited for the art they are going to make and share with our neighbors."
Live Coal Gallery will kick off its programming at Hope House & Gardens with a free summer art camp for kids ages 4 through 12.
Learn more about Live Coal Gallery here.
What you're about to read is a sermon I wrote for Earth Day this year.
Here, at the beginning, please know that:
At one of the Christian colleges I attended, I wrote a paper against Earth Day. In that paper, I made the case that Earth Day is wrong--a satanic scheme to turn Christians away from God. The kind of people who celebrate Earth Day, I said, are benighted, godless, immoral, and just plain weird.
I wrote: "The Bible says the earth will burn up anyways. The only thing that matters is that we live lives of obedience to God. Those who preach the environment seek to lead us astray from what God says is important."
What, exactly, did God say is important?
At the time, I would say the most important things to God were abstaining from the sins of alcohol, sex, and tobacco and going to the right church.
Oddly, it was my struggle with one of those sins--sex--that began to change my mind about Earth Day. I grew up in a Christian culture that made sex feel like a very dirty thing. And so, as a college kid who involuntarily thought of almost nothing but sex, I felt dirty all the time. I was so ashamed of my sexuality, I actually sought out a man who said he could cast the "sex demon" out of me.
He failed. I thought about sex just as much after the "exorcism".
"It's not a demon," I thought. "It's me! I'm doomed!"
I went on living with this shame for several years until Bobby Valentine, a pastor friend of mine, pointed me to a scripture that saved me.
"Brad, go read Genesis 1," he said. "Then, come back and tell me: What is the first command God gives human beings in the Bible?"
It wasn't hard to find God's first command to human beings. It's right there in Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply."
Bobby asked me: "You know what that means, Brad? It means God's first command to human beings is to have sex. See? You're made for sex and God expects you to have sex. Why feel dirty about wanting to do something that God commands you to do?"
And that did it. From that point on, I no longer felt ashamed of being sexual.
But helping me find healthy sexuality was only one of the things reading Genesis 1 did for me; it also changed what I believe about the relationship between God and Earth.
As I read Genesis 1, I noticed a refrain repeating over and over again: "And God saw that it was good."
What did God see as good? Earth and all therein.
I grew up believing God made Earth like Olympic host cities make stadiums: Disposable venues that get used for a short period of time before abandonment or demolition.
But Genesis 1 tells a different story. That refrain--"And God saw that it was good"--sings a song about an artist (God) thrilling in his artwork (Earth). The beauty and wonder of it all is getting to him and he is nearly giggling with joy and love.
Read Genesis 1 aloud and let the imagery enchant you and the rhythm move you. You can almost hear God's breathless whisper: "Oh, this is good. This is so, so good!"
Nothing about Genesis 1 even hints that God is building a disposable venue for human competition. No, he's getting carried away with his creativity and love for it all.
It is impossible to really read Genesis 1 and say that Earth does not matter to God.
It clearly does.
And that brings us back to the sex part.
The last thing God makes in Genesis 1 is human beings in his own image.
What does that mean? In his own "image"?
It means God makes human beings godlike. Everything we see God do in Genesis 1 is something that God gives us the power to do, too. God gives human beings the power to create and imagine. He gives us the power to care, to love, to rejoice.
And he gives us Earth--his Earth.
As soon as God declares his delight and his love for Earth, he gives it as a gift to the human beings he made in his own image. As he gives the gift, he says:
"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air and for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."
In short: Love it the way I love it. Care for it the way I care for it. Enjoy it! Treasure it!
To believe Genesis 1 is to believe that this is God's commission to the human race.
This was radical the first time I understood it.
But it was also such a relief.
I grew up in a church where preaching whiffed of burning sulfur. We talked about hell all the time. Our god was foul-tempered and thin-skinned. He was "all business" and enjoyed "throwing the book" at us. Yeah, maybe he made the world, but he forgot about it as soon as humans were on the scene. God was too busy sniffing out 19-year olds who were trying with all their might to not think about sex. Earth was just kindling for the fire that would burn up all the sinners like me.
Genesis 1 saved me from that god. What a relief to discover that God is an artist with a soft spot for birds and flowers! What a relief to discover that God thought sex would be a really awesome thing for people to have! What a relief to discover that God doesn't make anything to use once and throw away; he saves everything...including you and me.
Thinking about it this way changed Earth Day from a "pagan" day to a sacred day.
Jesus Christ himself tells his apprentices that to look into the heart of God, they need to look at nature. Earth Day, then, is not just a day to celebrate and contemplate Earth; it is a day to get to know the heart of God by getting to know God's Earth.
Christians like me shouldn't keep Earth Day to be "P.C." or to placate that one aunt who wears Birkenstocks and eats homemade granola. We keep Earth Day because thrilling in the beauty and wonder of Earth is one of the easiest ways to thrill in the heart of God.
Earth Day is also a reminder that we as a human race have work to do--divine work that is obedience to God's original command: Love my Earth the way I love it. Care for it the way I care for it. Treat this gift the way a precious gift ought to be treated.
If we want to be like God, Earth Day shows us how. If we want to be part of God's life (and want God to be part of our lives), Earth Day shows us how.
In a calendar full of religious holidays and observances, few could bring us any closer to knowing who God is and what God is about than Earth Day.
"For God so loved the world..."
The truth is, for God every day is Earth Day.
Shouldn't that be true of us, too?
BT Irwin, executive director, Voices for Earth Justice
We are pleased to share that the University of Michigan chose Voices for Earth Justice to be part of its Detroit Community-Based Research Program (DCBRP) for Summer 2018. U-M will pay a full-time research intern to work with us from June to August.
This summer, Voices for Earth Justice will host research intern Chloe Hypes, a junior environmental science major from Stockbridge, Michigan. Chloe's studies focus on food policy and food sustainability with special emphasis on nutrition access in rural areas. She is on scholarship at U-M, a fact more remarkable because she is also a first-generation college student. She has studied and volunteered in Peru and Tanzania and will spend May in Costa Rica before joining Voices for Earth Justice in June.
As part of the Detroit Community-Based Research Program, Chloe will receive local housing and a stipend from U-M. At Voices for Earth Justice, she will work 40 hours per week on two projects:
The questions Chloe will seek to answer are: What Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits meet the economic, health, social, or spiritual needs of people in Brightmoor? Are these Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits affordable and easy enough that Brightmoor residents will see the benefits and take them up as part of their lives? How many people in Brightmoor are likely to take up these Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits? What does Voices for Earth Justice need to do to bring this about over the next few years?
In short: What does Everyday Earth Justice look like in Brightmoor?
We hope you'll keep Chloe and our neighbors and team in your prayers this summer. We also hope you'll donate, visit, or volunteer as your own Everyday Earth Justice.
Grace and peace!
Let’s create a Detroit where all residents can save money, have clean walkable neighborhoods, pursue good jobs, and live a healthy lifestyle. The Office of Sustainability is looking to work with engaged and motivated Detroiters to uplift residents’ voices and keep the community connected during the planning phase and beyond.
Sustainability Ambassadors will be advocates for Detroiters, first and foremost. Ambassadors will seek ideas and input from people in their neighborhoods and help us shape an agenda that puts all Detroiters first. The plan will inform how we:
Sustainability Ambassadors are:
The University of Michigan chose Hope House & Gardens as one site in a large ongoing study of allergenic pollen and its effects on children in Detroit. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, is being conducted by Dr. Dan Katz, a postdoctoral fellow at U-M's School of Public Health.
According to Dr. Katz's website, the study focuses on the "intersection of plant ecology, public health, and aerobiology."
At Hope House & Gardens, U-M students will set up and monitor a pollen collection instrument each week during the growing season. Once a week, students will visit the site to record the pollen data the instrument collects.
"Partnerships like this one are an important part of what we do," said Voices for Earth Justice executive director BT Irwin. "By giving U-M researchers access to Hope House & Gardens, we're contributing to research that can make a difference in the lives of our neighbors and to Earth."
Let's start with some housekeeping.
A month or two ago, I posted that our board is working on new mission and vision statements. We got far enough along that the board was looking at a draft. However, after talking over that draft the board decided to put it on the back burner for now.
Well, it's almost spring...and we've got a garden to grow and friends and neighbors to bless, serve, and teach. That's a lot of work for a little organization like Voices for Earth Justice! For now, we are choosing to work with our friends rather than talk about words.
That brings me to the point of this post: The work we're going to do with our friends and why that work matters now.
One thing I'll share with you from the mission and vision draft we put on hold is this little mantra: Everyday Earth Justice.
That little mantra will guide me as I guide Voices for Earth Justice.
What does it mean?
I take Everyday Earth Justice to mean making Earth justice part of our everyday lives. As habitual a practice as brushing our teeth. It means doing Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with. It means changing our lives just a little more each day to be a little more just.
Truth: Ordinary people changing their everyday lives make a far greater difference than the biggest organizations with the biggest budgets and biggest programs.
So, when I think about Voices for Earth Justice, I don't think about how to make it bigger; I think about how we can help more ordinary people make more small changes that add up to a bigger difference in their lives and in our world.
Are you with me?
So, the question is: How will Voices for Earth Justice help ordinary people practice Everyday Earth Justice?
Simple: We ourselves have to do Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with.
Let's look at each of those things:
Wherever we are: Voices for Earth Justice has been in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for almost seven years.
Whatever we have: Since 2011, we've cared for and cultivated Hope House & Gardens at the corner of Greydale and Puritan streets in Brightmoor.
Whomever we're with: We have a small, but passionate core group of donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers.
So, then, Voices for Earth Justice will do Everyday Earth Justice by helping our donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice together at Hope House & Gardens in Brightmoor.
How will we know we're doing this well?
To answer that question, I believe we need to find answers to five other questions:
We don't yet have answers to the first two questions. This month, we hired L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams to be our garden program leader. Part of her job will be to help us answer Questions 1 and 2 so we can set some goals for 2018 and 2019.
As for Questions 3, 4, and 5, we set this goal: By June 30, 2019, 2,019 people will come to Hope House & Gardens to celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice. At least half (1,010) will be our Brightmoor neighbors.
So, in summary, we are setting two "mission goals" we want to accomplish by the end of Summer 2019:
Here's our plan to accomplish these goals:
What do you think? Are you with us?
If so, you have an important role to play in all of this. You can join us in practicing and supporting Everyday Earth Justice.
Here are three ways you can help today:
Helping 2,019 people--half of them Brightmoor neighbors--celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice at Hope House & Gardens is what we are all about in 2018 and 2019. Are you all about Everyday Earth Justice, too?
Join us! We are eager to bless and serve you as you work alongside us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director