I grew up in a white house enveloped in a rainbow of roses, a reminder of my grandpa’s garden in Korea. I fondly remember family trips to beautiful mountains, deserts and forests, walking on the beach with my dad, and the fresh crunch of a cucumber dipped in ssamjang.
My connection to the natural world stems from my culture and my family. As a woman of color, I don’t look like the traditional environmentalist.
The fundamental values that guide my interests in sustainability and protecting nature stem from my family. And yet, media and textbooks told me that environmentalism was a place primarily for rich, white males – not a place for immigrant families. Going to a predominantly white institution and joining environmental groups that were even more white made me start to question myself: Were my interests and background valid in the environmental movement? Do I even belong in this field?
I found out about Project Green Challenge (PGC) during my sophomore year of college and asked one of my best friends from high school, Jinno, if he wanted to form a team with me. PGC sounded like a fresh opportunity to revitalize my interests in the environment and reconnect with an old friend. Although we were on opposite sides of the country, we set off on this journey together.
Everyday, I woke up excited to learn about each challenge, brainstormed new ideas with Jinno , and shared with my community what I learned. I’ll never forget the day Jinno and I found out we were PGC Finalists. Flying out to California for PGC Finals (and being able to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family) was an experience I’ll never forget. I met mentors who looked like me, people who cared about the same issues I cared about, and learned about projects and organizations working to solve our most crucial environmental problems.
Through PGC, I realized that something was inherently missing in the mainstream environmental movement. At finals, Jinno and I shared a platform about environmental justice- stressing the need for more diversity and inclusion in environmentalism and calling for a shift to community-centered and led solutions. Being able to vocalize the difficulties I felt in college allowed me to heal and look towards building a more equitable future.
My PGC journey didn’t just end after PGC Finals. Reuniting with the Turning Green Team at the Natural Products Expo in March reminded me that the PGC experience extends far beyond just 30 days in October. Participating in PGC connects you to a larger environmental community, its connects you to something bigger.
PGC is more than simply changing your lifestyle choices. We’re asking bigger questions: How can we mobilize our bodies and our energy to fight climate change, fix injustices and inequalities, and lift up the voices of our most marginalized communities? What is your story? What does conservation mean to you and your community and how can we transform traditional, exclusive narratives?
Be unashamedly yourself and know that what you bring, your whole self, is what the environmental movement needs. PGC 2018 will be tough, but an experience of personal growth and reflection that will change your life and connect you with an amazing community that will support you.
Lauren Kim is a student at Yale University and PGC 2017 Co-Champion. She is currently taking a gap year in Asia doing environmental work. Please feel free to reach out to her with any questions/concerns/cool ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org! She is excited to hear about your PGC journey.