Adding More Color to the Green Movement
Greenlining executive director shares at Social Change Institute’s opening night
When Orson Aguilar returns home to Berkeley, California after the Social Change Institute (SCI), he’ll be exploring the creation of a loan fund that will enable people of color hit by the foreclosure crisis a fresh start.
“I’ve been wanting to pull together a fund that would buy homes and then create second-chance opportunities for folks who were preyed upon with bad loans,” says Aguilar, whose organization the Greenlining Institute has issued briefs demonstrating that Blacks and Latinos were unfairly steered to the subprime loan market, and represent 46 per cent of total losses to foreclosure.
This possible change campaign is one of many Aguilar has helped lead as Greenlining Institute’s executive director. The nearly 20-year-old organization takes a proactive approach to empower communities of color while building understanding about how diverse communities are a source of unrealized assets and strength.
Referring to Greenlining as a “think and do tank,” Aguilar says the nonprofit conducts research and designs multi-pronged strategies, running several campaigns at a time from renewable energy to affordable higher education. A core mandate is to demonstrate how the issues are interrelated, for example, the ways in which housing affects health, which affects educational outcomes, and provide ‘shovel ready’ solutions to create change.
A recent win for the organization came in 2010 when it was able to mobilize communities of color to vote against Prop 23, an effort by Texas oil companies to overturn California’s clean air laws. Aguilar says when examining voting stats, people of color voted “No” to overturning the clean air laws more than any other community.
“Usually it’s the opposite, and we made communities of color the more progressive, environmental voters just because somebody saw the value of including us in these debates,” says Aguilar.
“We do have the capacity to make the movement more powerful by being in it.”
Greenlining also focuses on training multi-ethnic leaders who work across boundaries to address critical policy issues through its leadership academy. After 14 years, Greenlining has helped build a network of over 600 leaders, including Aguilar.
“A lot of our work is opening that door to young people who perhaps didn’t even know that this kind of work existed,” he says, adding they provide training through lived experience and putting people on the front line.
Aguilar discussed Greenlining’s work and strategy during SCI’s opening night session June 6. The first-time attendee says events like SCI provide a much-needed space for the social sector to connect and learn from one another.
“It’s only going to take people like this to make a difference in all of the issues that we are working on,” says Aguilar.
SCI took place June 6-10 and convened more than 80 impact and emerging leaders in the social sector who are seeking practical skills and networking opportunities to take their work to the next level.