Cream City Conservation: A Pipeline of Diversity for the Green Movement
August 25, 2022 | Topics: Articles
By: Catherine Bordeau and C4 Crew Members
As brutal heatwaves swept the nation and the world, a group of teenagers from Milwaukee, Wisconsin were out in the field: building trails, removing invasive species, planting trees, and learning about green infrastructure like bioswales and permeable pavements.
The Cream City Conservation Corps crew began the summer learning why we do conservation work. As calls for policy change became more urgent, this group of teens translated words into action. For some crew members, orientation was their first time learning the stark realities of climate change.
“I had never heard of climate change before June, and I’m mad,” reflected Akeelah Calvert, a sophomore at Pulaski High School. She spoke at the 6th annual Green & Healthy Schools Conference of Milwaukee in a passionate and powerful speech calling everyone in attendance to join her in the fight against climate change.
“Schools are underprepared to teach us about climate change,” said Quentin Banigan, a sophomore at Muskego High School. “It’s one of the most pressing issues of our time, but we don’t talk about it.”
“I’ve always cared about the environment, but I think this summer was a gateway to knowing how serious conservation work is and how climate change has a big impact on people,” explained Angelina Xiong, a sophomore at the University School of Milwaukee. “Conservation work does make such an impact in communities. Little changes make a big difference.”
Cream City Conservation Corps takes a two-prong approach. “One of our primary goals,” shared August Ball, Cream City founder, “is to foster the next generation of environmental stewards through paid on-the-job training experiences and service to public lands.”
For most teens on the crew, this was their first job. The internship program also included opportunities to learn about green careers—from water conservation engineers to forest firefighters. “I loved learning about different careers, and I really loved working outside all summer,” added Killian Covey, a sophomore at Escuela Verde.
“We also support the existing conservation industry in recognizing and eradicating practices that are keeping them racially homogenous and empowering them to intentionally attract and retain a thriving, diverse workforce,” added August Ball. The 2022 Cream City Conservation Corps crew was diverse—two Hmong, three African American, four Latinx, and three white teens worked together to make a difference, and they recognize themselves as the next generation of leaders in the conservation movement.
Karina Gonzalez began as a teen crew member almost ten years ago, and now she is the Program Manager at Cream City. “I think I’ve had the privilege of working in every role that we have, which gives me the ability to create the spark of interest in these topics.” As a result, Karina can relate to the teens, and she and August are both role models.
Cream City Conservation Corps is a pipeline for young people of color to join the movement. Since the program’s founding, two or three members from every summer crew have gone into conservation work as a career.
“I want our crew members to be knowledgeable and equipped to know that there are people of color in this movement. We all have a crucial role,” reflected Karina.
Aniyah Johnson, a sophomore at Escuela Verde, declared, “This was more than a job though. I made a difference. I got involved in conservation efforts, and I learned a lot.”
The pipeline continues into the fall and spring, as Cream City Conservation prepares to receive and foment the leadership of the next round of crew members to dive into conservation work.
Generation Green: Creating Career Pathways for the Next Wave of Environmental Stewards
Catherine Bordeau was a summer seasonal crew leader in 2022 for C4. The program is a partnership with MMSD, and continues with local schools until October. All photographs courtesy of Cream City Conservation Corps. C4 and MMSD are project partners of A Wealth of Nature.