I found inspiration on both sides of Portland on Nov. 12. On the west side, the Maine Community Foundation hosted an event at the University of Southern Maine. “The Power of Community” included a wonderful speech by Monica Wood, one of my favorite Maine writers and playwrights.
Wood’s book, “When We Were the Kennedys: A Memoir from Mexico, Maine,” is the best autobiography I’ve ever read. Wood, who also writes novels, spoke powerfully about her community work, focusing on the five years she worked with female inmates at the state prison to encourage them to read and write.
She also read a passage from her new novel, “The One-in-a-Million Boy,” which will be published in April. I can’t wait to read it!
Steve Rowe, Maine’s former attorney general and legislator, has a dream job as the new president and CEO of the Maine Community Foundation, which manages a diverse array of funds that donate to projects that strengthen local economies, support farming and fisheries enterprises, assist the revitalization of downtowns, and lots more.
A new project for foundation is the “People of Color Fund”: “For teens in Lewiston, it’s coaching to become leaders and role models for a growing immigrant community. On Indian Island, young Native Americans are renewing traditional skills with help from their elders, while students from around the world are learning a new language from volunteer tutors in Portland. In Downeast Maine, Latinos are making homes in the region thanks to advocacy and enhanced community services.”
Rowe emphasizes that “the Maine Community Foundation’s leadership role is to serve as a catalyst for social change,” preparing to launch its new Leadership Learning Collaborative, “looking for opportunities to build leadership capital in Maine.”
After Wood finished her speech, I found some of that leadership capital across the city at the Ocean Gateway, where I attended an Evening for the Environment hosted by the Maine Conservation Voters. Republican Sen. Roger Katz, of Augusta, received the 2015 Harrison L. Richardson Environmental Leadership Award.
Adam Lee, presenting the award, said, “Sen. Katz is a hero of mine. And I’m a Democrat.”
U.S. Sen. Angus King noted that, “Roger Katz is a model legislator. He models the way we should do public office.”
I completely agree with Lee and King. And I loved the way Katz reminded the audience that Maine has had many Republican conservation heroes — including former legislator Sherry Huber, who was there, and former Attorney General Jon Lund. I was privileged to know and work with Harry Richardson, for whom the award is named. Like Katz, Richardson was a Republican legislator and strong conservationist.
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr. was the keynote speaker, and he was absolutely amazing. Yearwood is a minister, community activist and president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, leading the fight against climate change. In one photo, I noted he was speaking to 400,000 people gathered on the mall in Washington, D.C. Our Maine audience was smaller, but no less enthusiastic!
Maureen Drouin, executive director of Maine Conservation Voters, heard Yearwood speak at a League of Conservation Voters national event and invited him to Maine. And I am so glad she did. His speech was provocative and challenging, for sure.
“The fossil fuel industry’s current business plan amounts to a death sentence for young people,” he said. He has used hip hop music to creatively advance his cause and message, and even created a climate change album called “Home” — for “Heal Our Mother Earth.”
Rev. Yearwood told us about a 14-year-old girl in Washington, D.C., who had died of asthma. Her grief-stricken mother tried to crawl into her daughter’s casket at the girl’s funeral. The family had lived near a polluting power plant.
“We’re more inclined to fight for our money than for our babies that they can breathe,” he said. “Can’t we fight for that?”
Yes, we can, and we should.
Rev. Yearwood challenged us to change the perception that other issues are more important than climate change. Another thing he said that hit me really close to home was when he criticized “the incremental compromising approach of mainstream environmentalists.” I had learned long ago to compromise to get what I could at the Legislature, and then go back the next year for more. Perhaps that is the wrong approach to the challenge of climate change.
“We’re the last generation to feel the impact of climate change,” said Rev. Yearwood, “the last generation who can do something about it.”
Tough talk. Just what we all need to hear.