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Grind for the Green

Hip Hop has taken a new stage. Grind for the Green (G4G) is an organization that uses the influence of music to educate youth on environmental issues. Their Eco-Music Festival is the nation’s largest youth–led green event. From green internships and bike-powered smoothies to their Fresh Fest concert (run entirely on solar power) G4G actively engages the hip hopcommunity on environmental awareness. The event was a huge success in expressing what’s really fresh about our communities by exploring the cultural relevance of the environmental movement among communities of color in Oakland.  “So what we were able to do was create a multifaceted experience. There were a lot of community partners, local organizations doing everything from aquaponic displays, to Job Corps training and learning about zero waste,” explains Zakiya Harris, founder of G4G. “We had a solar trailer with a wind mill on it that powered the whole event. It is always powerful to see that tangible reminder of alternative renewable sources of energy that can be used.”

Their youth organized solar-powered concert was held in San Francisco for the first two years.
Oakland, California was home for the 2010 Fresh Fest. “When we decided to have a solar-powered hip-hop concert 3 years ago, no one knew what that meant. And we forget that was such a short time ago. Now, you can literally say a solar-powered concert to our communities and they know what it is without even being there. We’ve gotten inundated with community-based organizations from around the country that want to know how to have a solar-powered concert,” says Zakiya. “It’s the very notion of the possibilities of the new green economy in our communities by exposing what the main stream green movement has been doing for years.”

There was a bike valet at the event, which allowed those without a Toyota hybrid to take an active role in the green transition. The company used by G4G as a valet service builds scraper and bamboo bikes. “In the Bay Area, there is something called the toxic triangle where there is a history of pollution; mostly in low-income communities. In a joint collaboration between natural building company Balifornia and youth led arts organization Community Rejuvenation project a triangle was constructed out of bamboo, with a mural on each side that addressed the impact of environmental toxins in communities of color” explains Pandora Thomas, Environmental Educator. “[The bamboo triangle] switched the story from being toxic to the endless possibilities in the urban communities. They learned about the toxins in their area and what was being done, along with understanding the strength in bamboo.”

There were over 300 people that attended the Fresh Fest concert who wouldn’t naturally have come to a green-focused event. More than 25 volunteers came, instructing people on what to do at the compost bins and attending to the children in the Kid Zone. The majority of the volunteers were under 19 years-old. “The young adults that attended really wanted to be apart and assist in the community efforts,” says Pandora. “They are coming to see themselves as part of this movement and not just something they are coming to along with other people. They are starting to understand that this is all of our movement, we’ve got to make this happen. What is inspiring for me to see is youth and young adults taking ownership, we have to have more ways for them to engage.”

As an eco-conscious reality begins to aggressively move us towards a green economy, people in every community will start to see themselves as part of environmental change. Through the art of music, the Fresh Fest was able to environmentally educate people throughout the country in the name of the earth. “We celebrated the whole day with a variety of local artist performances. Pete Rock was not able to come- he missed his flight. But in the 11th hour, we were able to get Phife from a Tribe Called Quest, who happened to be in Oakland that day and came over to the park to do a wonderful Tribe set. Another amazing female DJ named ‘Pam the Funkstress’ performed as well,” says Zakiya. “We don’t want to be the only people doing solar-powered hip-hop concerts. We don’t want for only certain kind of jobs to be called green. We want every job to be called green. And in terms of changes, we are helping to change the possibilities in people’s minds of what’s possible. We are showing them that there are simple steps they can take to start now.”