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May Projects Gardens, a London-based environmental initiative reaching urban youth.

Highlighting UK BAME environmental activism.

I am a massive believer in the power of grassroots environmental activism. Where government initiatives often fail to reach the most vulnerable of communities, grassroots projects save the day.

Unlike national environmental organisations which are predominantly male-heavy, white and middle-class, local environmental groups draw members from a broad cross-section of class and occupational categories. Quite significantly, local eco-initiatives attract members from minority groups – this is important as black and ethnic minority communities are some of the most disengaged with nature and environmentalism, and their voices and needs are often neglected in the environmental debate.

In many instances, local, bottom-up initiatives have achieved far more than top-down initiatives at the national/international scale. The issue is that for many “big green groups” and movements, there is no longer a clear enemy. Instead of fighting big corporations that kill the planet, some big green groups are cooperating with them.

There is nothing wrong with cooperation and collaboration – without these, we would live in a very sad and unpleasant world overrun by even more by crime, war, and anthropogenically-induced environmental catastrophes. However, what is undeniably wrong is when environmental NGOs and other big green groups take big business cash and think they can save the planet.

The environmental agenda in recent years has become heavily corporatized, with the relationship between some big green groups and big-brand companies quite concerning to say the least. For example, the WWF has been in collaboration with and funded by Coca-Cola since 2012. Amongst other initiatives, the pair have a shared goal to “save” polar bears…right.

Where big green groups and government systems fail to support and protect ethnic minorities and those living on the margins of society, local environmental groups and projects are there to provide that much-needed societal role.

I hereby present May Project Gardens (MPG), an innovative, alternative and educational model using hip hop to educate and empower young people to be healthy, entrepreneurial, and to grow their communities.

Image Credit: Spiral Seed

Founded in 2007 by Ian Soloman-Kawall and Randy Mayers, MPG has gone from strength to strength. Feeling a lack of connection to nature in the city and wanting to provide a safe, creative and beneficial place for others facing social and economic hardships, the duo decided to create May Project Gardens. To achieve this, the back of Ian’s mother’s council house was transformed into a community garden.

Previously a purely voluntary-run organisation with no formal funding, MPG became a Community Interest Company in 2015 after gaining wider recognition for their community efforts. A fruitful year for MPG, the organisation was also the winner of the 2015 Mayer of London’s Team London Award

Working with urban communities, the team addresses poverty, disempowerment, and access to resources and influence. The full-course on offer, which runs for 24 weeks and targets 16-24 year-olds, focuses on personal development, education, and enterprise skills.

Young participants enrolled on the MPG course are kept engaged through popular youth culture, such as hip hop, and are given the chance to connect with nature, address their traumas, improve their physical and mental health, and learn tangible skills that will follow them into adulthood (such as food growing and gardening). Taster sessions for youth organisations and schools, as well as tailor-made programmes, are also available.

Image Credit: Spiral Seed

Through its current team of three directors and a body of volunteers, the initiative is able to provide an alternative education system and lifestyle that is people-centric and resource-led. MPG is also proud of being a collaborative effort that reaches people living on the margins of society, including BAME youth from poor and less advantaged social backgrounds.

Image credit: Spiral Seed

With a key mission statement that aims to ensure young and vulnerable people “disengage with power structures that don’t serve their interests”, it is evident that this initiative is truly grass-roots and is truly ‘for the people’.

It really is so fantastic to see successful eco-initiatives such as MPG have such a lasting impact and continue to reach the vulnerable urban communities that it does.

The goal of achieving a sustainable planet is not far-fetched with the work of initiatives like May Project Gardens. Grass-roots environmental activism has proved yet again that we can protect the natural world, and simultaneously reach communities most in need, by educating our urban youth on how to live sustainably. Additional efforts to boost the career and financial prospects of young participants is another reason to love the bottom-up efforts of MPG.

If this initiative is something you are interested in or want to support, then please check out May Project Garden’s website.


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