Brody Abbott
Built Environment Program Manager, Ecotrust
He/Him. Age: 30

Brody Abbott is old enough to remember the vibrant black community that defined the Northeast Portland he knew as a kid. He witnessed its undoing in the face of the crack epidemic and the War on Drugs, overpolicing and, of course, gentrification. Last year, when he moved back to the neighborhood where he grew up, a homeowner for the first time, he recalls the bittersweet irony of one of his new, white neighbors stopping by to "welcome" him to the neighborhood. Recalling the moment, he remembers thinking to himself, "No, no, you've got it backwards—welcome to MY neighborhood."

The communities disproportionately impacted by the effects that drive gentrification also tend to be frontline communities, environmental wonkspeak for the groups most vulnerable to environmental pollution and the daily realities of climate change. As the Ecotrust lead on the Green Workforce Collaborative, Abbott works with a handful of local organizations to provide green jobs training and opportunities for two of these groups in Portland: black and indigenous young adults.

The collaborative recently developed and launched the Green Workforce Academy, a five-week training program that provides culturally responsive workforce skill building, pre-apprenticeships, and complementary education and support services. The GWA employs a curriculum that includes 120 hours of training in foundational knowledge of the green economy, green job readiness workshops, financial literacy and lessons on hard and soft skills that are necessary for successful networking, leadership in the workplace and mentorship moving forward. As far as employment opportunities for graduates, the GWA prioritizes industries that have the potential to provide full-time living-wage careers so that 80 percent or more of academy graduates can step confidently into a stable job that will allow them to grow into their environmental career. This pathway not only helps the individual, it also hits back at the chronic rate of unemployment as well as inequitable access to living-wage employment in high-growth industries within environmental fields locally.

Drawing connections between the systems that historically have harmed black and other communities of color and their impact on his own life circumstances inform Abbott's work at Ecotrust. "What really motivated me was my lived experience growing up and not having a lot of cards to deal that were positive, but playing chess to navigate the system that wasn't meant for [black people]," as he puts it. It's a natural fit, since Abbot finds alignment in Ecotrust's approach to finding systemic solutions for systemic problems. "I appreciate that they recognize that 'environmental issues' doesn't just mean protecting forests and land. It's just so important to have the place where you grow up, live and work be a place that supports your development as a person: your ability to not just get by, but to succeed and thrive."

Bottom line: Last year’s pilot run of the Green Workforce Academy graduated 13 participants with new skills in urban “green” jobs, like urban forestry and stormwater management. The GWC is beginning to work directly with their employers to provide assistance with equity action planning, anti-racism training and strategies for effective, targeted outreach to communities of color. Funding has been secured to train three cohorts of 25 students annually.