Yolanda Matthews speaks on the struggles faced by young workers of color on March 17, 2015. • Courtesy Photo
Yolanda Matthews speaks on the struggles faced by young workers of color on March 17, 2015. • Courtesy Photo

On the heels of a community win of priority hire, local environmental justice organization Got Green launched a new campaign led by young adults of color to call on elected officials to create 100 new living-wage “green” internships targeted at young adults of color and young people living in under-resourced neighborhoods in our city.

Laurie Torres of the Young Leaders in the Green Movement committee, took the bullhorn and led chants as the group marched from Garfield High School to Seattle Central College, spreading the word with community members along the way.

“There are too few pathways that exist for us to get living wage, on-the-job training. Young people need to make a living wage in order to support themselves and their families,” Torres said, “We are calling on the City of Seattle to create career pathways for young adults of color and more green jobs that strengthen our community and environment.”

Got Green young leader and Seattle Central student, Yolanda Matthews, stepped out of class to share her story. Her situation exemplifies the situation many young workers find themselves in, juggling school and work while facing lack of opportunities, rising costs of living, soaring tuition rates.

“With the money I make I can just afford to cover my basic needs,” Matthews said. “I can’t save to see my family who live back east, which means I haven’t seen them in 3 years, I have to take any job I can find, which has usually meant low-wage service jobs, and with sky rocketing rents I have had to stay in a living situation that if I had choice, I would not be in.”

Over the past year, a dozen young adults of the Young Leaders in the Green Movement grassroots committee made up of young workers of color, ages 17 to 34, from Seattle and South King County, zeroed in on this issue to figure out what barriers young adults of color faced. They interviewed leaders from the $15 minimum wage campaign, met with Mayor Murray’s staff, learned about current internship opportunities through the City of Seattle’s Office of Personnel, and researched other City-sponsored programs for youth to get hands-on work experience. They learned that of all the living wage city internships in Seattle, African American only held 9 percent, Latinos 5 percent, and Native American/Alaskan held less than 1 percent.

“Creating pathways for young leaders of color to attain jobs within the green economic movement is essential,” said Lylianna Allala of the Environmental Professionals of Color-Seattle Chapter. “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2043, people of color will grow from 36 percent to 50 percent of the U.S population. Youth in the U.S. will be over 50 percent people of color by 2019 according to the Brookings Institute. Without active engagement with communities of color, the environmental movement as it stands will become irrelevant. The time is now to strategize on how we can support youth from communities of color and low income communities to become the leaders that will take us into a new era.”

In 2013, Got Green surveyed 150 young adults of color and those from low-income backgrounds, and 32 percent of participants told us they were out of work, but looking. In follow-up discussions, participants frequently spoke of the intense competition in the job market, and cited “lack of work experience” as the reason most often given when turned down for a job. Those who took the survey also had a strong preference for employment in fields that benefit the environment (two-thirds of survey participants ranked green jobs as a top priority).

Before returning to class, Mathews told the crowd, “A living wage green internship would allow me to have steady employment in a field I eventually want to pursue. It would allow me to get credit and as an older student, and to get experience in my field, so that when I enter the job market I could be competitive with my peers. Again with high rents, it may not allow me to move out but, I would be able to save more money and have a more choiceful existence.”

For more information, visit www.gotgreenseattle.org.

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo

For more news announcements, click here