Our RVC Block Party has been postponed to fall 2024.

What my work at Got Green taught me about environmental justice

(Note: Shaylea is a 2019-2021 RVC Green Pathways Fellow based at Got Green. Our fellowship program enables young BIPOC leaders to join the environmental justice movement through entry-level, living-wage jobs at local organizations in the green sector. Shaylea wrote this reflection on her experiences in the program thus far.)

Honestly, if you were to have asked me a year ago where I’d be today, I can say that being in RVC Green Pathways Fellowship and working at Got Green isn’t exactly where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. There might be some things I would have done differently here and there, but all in all, I think I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Looking back on where I started in my host organization, Got Green, and where I am now, I see a big change. When I entered this fellowship, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As an alum of Duwamish Valley Youth Corps (DVYC), I had expected to be doing a lot of outside groundwork, but I was very much mistaken.

Coming into the RVC Fellowship, I had a lot of experience building rain gardens, cleaning up neighborhoods, learning how to see which plants were invasive species, and so on, but when I got to Got Green, I realized I actually had no idea what I was doing.

But not knowing also gave me a hell of a lot more room to grow. Being at Got Green made me see that environmental justice isn’t all about planting trees, recycling, picking up trash, or taking public transit; it’s also about the people, the community, and policies and arguing cases to city council members, in order to give the people a chance to have their voices heard.

So far, in this fellowship, I have learned a lot of new skills and also have been able to build on my existing skills and make them stronger. For instance, I’ve learned how to insert myself into places I normally wouldn’t be able to get into, I’ve learned how to speak about something in a way that will make everyone listen and understand what I am saying; I’ve been shown how to make community connections, and how to listen to what the community members have to say. I’ve also learned to network with other organizations. (And, also learned how to tell who’s a snake, who’s in it for a name, but not for a mission.) 

The main reason and the most important one on how I am able to be this person who inserts themself in these places which I am not welcomed is honestly because of people, the strength I feel through people, the struggles and reward I witness. It is beautiful, powerful, and I love it. I have always been a blunt and outspoken individual, but now I have a light in a tunnel to follow and show me what to fight for and even stronger reason to speak up and speak out; For those who can not. 

I have gone door-knocking; I’ve been the point person in arranging a holiday party; I’ve organized events and met with partner organizations as well as city council candidates.

Being at Got Green has made me realize my worth, and showed me that companies and organizations should not be treating their employees and staff as if they are expendable and replaceable. It made me realize that it’s important to show that every person has value.

Here at Got Green, it’s like I’ve gained another family. They make me feel comfortable, and Got Green is a place where I belong, where my voice can be heard. Of all places and all jobs I’ve worked for, this one is by far the best. The work is more rewarding, the benefits are better, and the people are kinder.

I’ve learned so much here, and I also know I’ll be leaving with so many new skills and a new lens of how I look at things and see people.

I always like to think it was fate that made me end up here at Got Green, and let’s just say fate is great.

 Shaylea Pilarski can be reached at [email protected]

Learn more about Got Green and support their leadership. Check out their website and follow them on social media, Facebook, and Twitter.