Enter into the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency and encounter something never seen in its history until now, a photo of the first African-American to serve as the agency's f administrator.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in New Orleans, Lisa Perez Jackson is the new face of the EPA, and, just like the president who appointed her, Jackson represents change.
Only seven months into the job, Jackson has dived into a number of important issues largely ignored by the previous administration. Under Jackson's leadership, the EPA has prompted the Obama administration to pursue legislation that cuts carbon emissions, limits green house gases and addresses climate change.
And while Jackson tackles what are, perhaps, some of the most difficult environmental challenges in a generation, her toughest assignment could be something less obvious--recruiting more minorities into the green movement.
"I am looking to open up the environmental movement to more people of color. As an African-American, I think there are still, sadly, people who see the environmental movement as belonging to White Americans and clearly the history of it is that way," Jackson says.
"Everywhere I go, I see communities that are concerned about environmental issues. Those are communities of color. We need to make sure that they see themselves here [in the EPA] and that they feel comfortable knowing that the EPA is here to address issues of concern for people of color," adds Jackson.
Prior to assuming her current post, Jackson, a chemical engineer, was just weeks into her new position as chief of staff for New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine. Before that, Jackson headed New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection after having already served at the EPA for 16 years.
Jackson insists that she is not daunted by any of the challenges before her. She is, instead, driven by them, particularly the mandate to diversify.
"The president's election, my nomination and the first lady's obvious concern for the environment have literally changed the face of environmentalism almost overnight," says Jackson, referring to a garden first lady Michelle Obama planted on the south lawn of the White House.
"Now, what we have to do is make sure that is not just symbolic change," Jackson explains. "We have to be effective advocates and effective workers for all of our communities. The future economy is going to be a green economy. If our communities are not a part of that economy, we are going to be left out."
An Exclusive Culture
Data show that minority environmentalists are struggling to make their way in. The Minority Environmental Leadership Development Initiative found that of 158 environmental institutions, 33 percent of mainstream environmental organizations and 22 percent of government agencies had no people of color on staff.
Part of the problem, says Dr. Robert D. Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, is the paucity of minority college graduates for these organizations to recruit, particularly at the graduate level.
In 2003, in natural resources and conservation related sciences, 2,334 White students graduated compared to 219 students of color. At the doctoral level, 458 White students graduated with doctoral degrees in agricultural sciences compared to 75 students of color, according to data collected by researchers at the Multicultural Environmental Leadership Development Institute at the University of Michigan.
That same year, 143 White students received doctoral degrees in natural resources and conservation programs compared to 13 students of color.
"There is a breakdown early on, before we even start talking about getting people of color into environmental organizations and federal agencies. …