Green Collar Hero: Zakiya Harris

Co-founder and co-director, Grind for the Green in San Francisco


What do you get when you combine phat beats and positive rhymes with organic food and alternative energy? Zakiya Harris’ music festival and environmental workshop, Grind for the Green (G4G). Harris has used hip-hop music to encourage young people in the San Francisco Bay area to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

African-American and Hispanic youth, says Harris, tend to live near toxic industrial areas, where pollution is common and information about how to protect the environment is hard to come by. But one thing most teenagers are familiar with is hip-hop music, and Harris says, using the music to communicate the ideals and principles of the movement has proven to be an effective tool in making those teens feel connected to their surroundings.

“What hip-hop does is provide a framework where young people realize that they are a part of the green movement,” she says. For nearly 10 years, Harris has been working to educate young people through music at the San Francisco-based DJ Project, and now with her own organization, G4G.

At G4G, which was founded in 2007, budding hip-hop artists gather to rehearse music, write songs and learn marketing and performance techniques. They do all this while eating organic meals, then emptying their plates (also made out of recycled material) into compost piles. Last year, Harris took the green hip-hop festival to the next level. She worked with the Solar Living Institute to produce the first solar-powered hip-hop concert. Last September, a Solar Living Institute trailer mounted with solar panels supplied the energy to power the concert’s sound system.

With G4G, Harris’ goal is to let the young people who live in not-so-green areas know that a sustainable environment is within their reach.

“Our kids are really just getting educated on this movement,” Harris says. “The biggest piece is making it tangible.