Often times we think about the disparity minorities face and feel helpless. However, there are people working towards equality and making an impact each day, fighting for the justice of those who are wronged, neglected and discriminated against. Together Restoring Economic Empowerment, or TREE, is an example of a group making great efforts in fighting injustice.
Interview with TREE founder, Abre' Conner
When was TREE established and who created the organization?
Together Restoring Economic Empowerment (TREE) was founded in January 2015 with the goal of serving young people of color through social media platforms and on the ground community programming. Prior to the widespread media coverage on water issues in Flint and the keystone pipeline crisis emphasizing the importance for young people of color to engage in environmental justice conversation in various spaces, TREE created an infrastructure for rapid response to environmental justice, economic justice, and entertainment diversity and media bias. TREE utilizes the collective environment of social media platforms to share and expose stories, and to allow people to engage with the organization as well as on the ground programming to delve deeply into training and community empowerment for people of color in the DMV and in California.
Does TREE live up to its initial vision/goal? How so?
To date, TREE leaders created and launched three sustainable programs, created a network of over 2,000 people through social media and on the ground programming, and has an advisory board of environmental justice, economic justice, and policy experts. TREE has been featured in the Grist, is a regular contributor for HuffPost, and TREE leadership members have received local and national recognition for their expertise in different civil rights work. Additionally, TREE works with all students of color for environmental justice programming at a high school and college level.
TREE’s programs highlight young people of color’s voice. TREE’s Seeds for Change program is a direct response to the need for young people of color to be involved in all phases of environmental planning. Students said in their post program interviews that they plan to create change in their communities regarding gentrification issues. Many of those students also explained that they did not understand how they could be advocates to fix gentrification problems before TREE’s Seeds for Change program.
Tell me about the meaning behind TREE’s emblem? What inspired it?
TREE’s emblem is really about creating power within communities of color. The Black and Brown represents who we want to lead advocacy campaigns. The blue arrow pointing upwards from the ground demonstrates that TREE believes that our movement has to be built from the ground up. The green color represents environmental and economic justice. The fist demonstrates unity.
Where is TREE headquartered?
TREE has staff members in California and the DMV.
How vast is the TREE community? Is it state, national or international?
There are TREE volunteers, board members, and advisory board members across the country. Given that we do online advocacy campaigns, we welcome volunteers across the country. Sign up today!
Why is TREE composed of mainly young professionals?
TREE believes that social justice cannot be achieved without cohesive millennial involvement at the forefront of the movement to dismantle oppressive systems. TREE’s ultimate goal is to eradicate systems of oppression that block progress for people of color. The notion that people of color cannot advocate for themselves in spaces that are traditionally underrepresented by them often serves as a barrier to this goal. Additionally, TREE knows the importance of allowing those most impacted to share their stories with decision-makers. Long term, these seeds may lead to increases in people of color leading decision-making processes and advocacy efforts across subject areas in their communities. And those changes can help eradicate or at least mitigate the impact of systemic racism in TREE’s three focus areas.
How can students get involved with TREE’s efforts?
Individuals can sign up to be volunteers or interns with TREE. They can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Additionally, individuals can create short videos called Empowerment Declarations. We will feature them on our social media and website! More info available on our website www.restoringempowerment.org. People can also purchase a t-shirt at http://printingiscool.limitedrun.com/. All donations go towards our programming. People can also donate on our website as a one-time or monthly giver.
What are some of your major accomplishments in racial justice?
TREE hosts in-person events and workshops in communities of racially and economically diverse locales to help provide — and ultimately empower — groups of people with the tools to take ownership of complex issues and plan for action in their community. TREE held several Leading Economic Awareness & Financial Education Community Series Seminars (also known as L.E.A.F.E.) in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC. L.E.A.F.E. was a series of conversations and workshops to foster conversation about financial literacy among people of color and to learn how to build wealth for families. During the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, TREE hosted an “Impact Breakfast” for youth-led social justice organizations to discuss ideas and ways to intersect their work. TREE’s high school Seeds for Change, environmental justice youth leadership program, has all students of color at each leadership training session. These programs foster an environment to transform the narrative, highlighting people of color for advocacy and eradicating the barriers to get them there.
What was involved to carry out those accomplishments?
TREE volunteers and board members worked with community members, local nonprofits, and government agencies to create events that were responsive to community needs. For some of the events, TREE staff had to conduct legal and legislative research to ensure that any advice we gave reflected what was happening in the country and in the local community.
What is the main issue TREE is focused on resolving presently?
Currently, TREE is continuing it’s work to help young people lead environmental justice advocacy. We also push policy action plans to help individuals get involved with local community advocacy efforts for our core areas.
Why is diversity something that must be fought for and maintained?
We believe that diversity means being intersectional in perspective and voice. Without different, in particular, impacted voices at the table, decision makers can leave out critical information in creating solutions. We want to help change that. We create programming that is intersectional and meant to highlight each person’s full experience regarding their environment as they discuss issues at our programs. For example, in our Seeds for Change program, TREE uses a small group model that helps to focus on tasks instead of preexisting relationships. This model helped to build relationships across races and ethnicities and promoted diversity of thought and solutions. We believe diversity means embracing who you are, unapologetically.
Why is diversity beautiful?
Diversity is beautiful because it allows for us to grapple with what comprises a person’s experiences and their perspectives. Diversity is part of the definition regarding what it means to be a young person of color. Diversity defines each board member’s experiences living in urban and rural communities, having different preferred pronouns and gender identities, and race and ethnicities. As we say at TREE, we do it for the culture.