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Women in Green Power Luncheon - Greenbuild 2019

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USGBC Senior Vice President Kimberly Lewis knows how to rev up her audience and take it with her on an awesome journey.  This year, she jumped right in, speaking of this year’s Women in Green theme, “A Culture of Courage,” which she called "a clarion call for courage that can permeate in and throughout our culture.”  She easily picked up on themes where President Barack Obama left off earlier in the day, reminding us to talk the talk but also to do some serious walking, to foster a culture of integrity, leading by being a convener of the best and brightest, and also reminding us that both the President and USGBC President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam spoke about the power of stories to connect and inspire.  

There are almost no words sufficient to describe Women in Green Power Luncheon 2019 Keynote speaker, Dr, Mildred McClain, AKA Mama Bahati, currently the Executive Director of the Harambee House/Citizens for Environmental Justice she founded in 1990.  For over 50 years, Mama Bahati has worked in the fields of education, community development, public health, environmental justice, and people's liberation struggles.  For the past 30 years, Mama Bahati has fought as a pioneer for environmental justice in marginalized and disenfranchised communities throughout the USA. She has worked tirelessly to bring attention to the plight of people of color who live near nuclear weapons production sites and address the impact of radiation.  She has also championed youth leadership development through the Black Youth Leadership Development Institute since 1988.  Dr. McClain has engaged with communities all over the world, assisting in building their capacity to speak for themselves as well as participate substantively in decision-making processes that impact their daily lives. 

Sadly, the most articulate description we can muster of Mama Bahati is that in addition to serving as a powerful role model for women and people everywhere, she’s unbelievably strong, positive, and…. so “cool."  One could listen to her story tell all day and forget about whatever else was going on.  She draws people in so powerfully - you can see how she’s moved mountains.  Mama Bahati shared her opinion of storytelling as "medicine for the spirit, as a salve that depicts and repeats how someone got over something."  She summarized simply, “What some people call stories are people’s lives.” 

Mama Bahati proceeded to share some of her own story, which we can not repeat nearly as eloquently.  Briefly, she felt compelled to joined the civil rights movement at the age of 13 after personally experiencing unfair treatment due to her race, and she volunteered to help integrate schools at 15.  Much of Mama Bahati’s work involves lending her strength to the oppressed.  But as she says, "We are not defined by our oppressors. We have to change one everything at a time - because we only have one earth, one mother.” She is concerned about a world where some young people grow to hate others, and others learn the behavior of self loathing.  

In addition to many other capacities, degrees, honors, and certificates, Mama Bahati also happens to be a certified roofer (who can dance and sing in front of a very big crowd, too).  Her top request of the assembled audience was to “take someone with you, literally, through the door.”  She challenged those assembled to work with at least three women of color, to bring them into the fold - to help them become architects, engineers, researchers, scientists. sustainable designers, etc.  She made less money than the men she worked with, she had to work in an environment where she was treated differently and inappropriately due to her gender, and she asked the audience to be brave and to “run our race and step into destiny,” as she has.  

Mama Bahati’s close was as strong as her start: "Courage is defined as having backbone, gumption.  Be brave today and become even braver when we leave.  Speak out against all justice, inequities inequalities, racism, discrimination, stand up for women everywhere, and when you go through a door please take someone with you."  

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