Green Collar Hero: Karen Monahan

Community Organizer for Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota & HIRE

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When Karen Monahan became a community organizer for the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM) in 2006, the notion of green jobs hadn’t yet made its way to the mainstream imagination. Monahan says working in a green industry in Minnesota, where there wasn’t a real green movement, was still very much a new idea.  

By 2008, the Minnesota state legislature was working on creating a green jobs task force, and Monahan was struck by the lack of diversity in the effort. “I went to one of their meetings,” Monahan says. “It was the same players as usual, all white folks.”  

Monahan was appointed co-chair of the subcommittee on workforce education and training and in November 2008, she teamed up with Louis King, another local organizer, to develop HIRE Minnesota, an organization dedicated to growing community interest in green jobs. HIRE Minnesota held its first town meeting a month later, on a night when the snow and cold should have been enough to keep people in their homes. More than 200 people showed up to hear how new green jobs could change their lives.  

Soon, the meetings grew from 200 to 600 people. For Monahan, “being green” is more than just working in a job that promotes wind and solar power. It’s about environmental justice and giving people in lower-income communities the resources they need. As a community organizer, Monahan has seen that environmental injustice in one place is a threat to environmental justice everywhere. 

“When we take care of the ecosystem, it takes care of us,” Monahan says. “Being green is about taking care of each other, and understanding there’s enough for everyone.”

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