While some people look at Detroit and see problems, we see there is no better place to start building a new economy than in Detroit.

In 2010, Global Exchange’s Michigan team had an idea: create a training program in Detroit to rebuild a resilient community and economy by teaching skills of renewable energy, energy efficiency, and urban agriculture.

What started out as a 5 participant experiment, turned into a full fledged annual project called Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT).

The GELT house in Highland Park, Michigan

The project, based just outside of Detroit in Highland Park, trains youth and community members in practical skills to empower them to improve their communities through energy conservation, renewable energy, green building technology, water conservation, waste diversion (recycling and composting), urban agriculture and food security and urban forestry. The project does all of this through an environmental justice lens.

We are putting out an open invitation to the whole country to join us for the third Green Economy Leadership Training from June 11-August 18.

You, or anyone you know, can apply.

Inside the GELT greenhouse

Want to participate in community-led projects focused on developing local green economy resources? Interested in learning to organize social entrepreneurship ventures? Between the ages of 18 and 99? Want to spend the summer in Highland Park, MI and meet like-minded people from across the country working for social justice while working with the local community? Then apply to GELT today.

To learn more about the GELT project or to apply for GELT 2012, click here.

If you cannot attend, you can still support the GELT project and sponsor a GELT summer fellow. Make a special gift today.

The time to join is now.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training in action

Signs of hope continue to sprout in Detroit. For many of us working on the revitalization of Detroit, 2012 may prove to be the year when the tide finally shifts towards a rebirth of our great city.  Some consider this a bottoming out after over a decade of massive manufacturing job losses to the tune of 200,000 jobs lost since the year 2000 and eye-opening population loss.

For many in Detroit, it doesn’t seem like the situation can get much worse.  We are far removed from Detroit’s heyday when it was considered a bustling leader in organized labor and fair wages for workers.

Those of us still in Detroit have become a battle-tested and resilient bunch, and the skills that we have acquired through so much chaos and uncertainty could prove useful to the rest of the country, a country entrenched in a long-term recession and high unemployment rates.

Consciousness of large scale economic and environmental problems came to national attention last year as the Occupy Wall Street movement swept the nation. Time magazine even named The Protestor the 2011 Person of the Year.

Those same problems are under a microscope here in Detroit, where we started feeling the financial fallout many years before other parts of the country.  In Detroit, it has been the norm to have corporations turn their backs on the people and the government ill-equipped and unwilling to respond to the massive problems plaguing the area.

2012 shouldn’t just be the year of large protests. We need a system change. As we’ve been saying here at Global Exchange, “Our 2012 resolution is global revolution!” We need new rules, skills and frameworks to take our movement to the next level.  Together, 2012 can be the year that we truly change the rules to create a world that champions people power not corporate power.  What better place to put these words into action than in Detroit?  This is where the economic fallout started, and this will be the place where the strategies for a new world can be tested.

Detroit: Green Economy Leadership Training activities. Photo courtesy of Samantha Frick

At Global Exchange we’re helping to transition Detroit into a beacon of community organizing power. Over the past two years our summer Green Economy Leadership Training program has been working in the Highland Park community and has trained over 50 people in intensive skills trainings and projects that are helping move a new vision of Detroit’s economy forward.

We have worked side by side with community members to assemble urban farms and 4-seasons greenhouses, weatherize homes and develop community solar projects and create K-12 education programs that are transitioning Detroit to a self-reliant, post-industrial future.  In 2012, we are continuing to build a new economy in Detroit, reaching one person at a time and working deeply within our community.

As we develop the skills for the new economy we also need to look towards putting the political power truly back in the hands of the people.  Detroit has been the victim of corporate greed for too long.  Communities like Detroit can benefit in a huge way by establishing community rights of their own. Our Community Rights Program is organizing across the country and around the world to pass revolutionary laws that strip corporate protections and assert the rights of communities to decide for themselves what happens where they live, and at the same time to recognize the rights of nature.


Apply to Green Economy Leadership Training: Be on the look out for an announcement to apply to our Green Economy Leadership Training in the next month. The application will be online, along with program information;

Attend Speaking Event: If you are in Michigan, I’ll be speaking this Thursday, 1/19, at Michigan State University in the Erikson Kiva @ 7:30 p.m.  The topic is Urban Green Strategies – How Detroit is Leading the 21st Century Sustainability Revolution?Rsvp here.

The GELT house in Highland Park, Michigan

It’s important to venture outside of our comfort zones once in a while to see what the world has to offer away from home. I was grateful for this chance when I traveled far from Global Exchange headquarters in sunny San Francisco to chilly Highland Park, Michigan last month.

My trip was centered on an Open House party that the Global Exchange midwest region Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) program staff held in Highland Park to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments over the last two years.

GELT is an initiative of Global Exchange that educates, engages and empowers both youth and adults to be active agents of change in building the necessary clean energy, green economy future. The program trains youth and community members in practical skills that will empower them to improve their communities, such as environmental justice, energy conservation, renewable energy, green building technology, water conservation, waste diversion (recycling and composting), urban agriculture and food security and urban forestry.

GELT living room

I attended the GELT party not only as a representative from Global Exchange headquarters but also as a curious observer eager to see for myself what I had only learned about in blogs and news pieces.

I won’t go into great detail about the deep and complex history of Detroit and Highland Park (you can read more about the city’s rise and fall over the last several decades here). Instead I’ll share some of what’s happening in Highland Park now and the vision folks I met in Detroit have for their tomorrow.

Driving into the small city of Highland Park at night (which is literally a city within a city entirely surrounded by Detroit), I passed by the massive vacant former Ford factory and countless abandoned homes – many of them burned and crumbling. It was particularly dark it was on the side streets. I learned later that the city of Highland Park recently removed the majority of city streetlamps to cut electricity costs. This is one of many examples of the lingering effects of a diminishing economy and a case in point for building up the green economy which Global Exchange is working towards in the area.

GELT headquarters and house in Highland Park

My trip began with a tour of GELT headquarters in Highland Park – a formerly dilapidated mansion built in the early 1900s, which now serves as place for green learning and home to several of the staff of the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) program (http://www.globalexchange.org/programs/greeneconomy). The staff worked day and night for weeks to renovate the massive house – now divided into four separate apartment units – in advance of the Open House. The space was glorious and proof that any of the countless old deserted buildings in the area could be turned into a haven for sustainable living and community.

Inside the GELT greenhouse

A few green features of the GELT home:

  • A grey water system installed in one of the bathrooms, which uses recycled water from the sink to power the toilet;
  • The team weatherized windows and doors to keep the heat inside during the cold months;
  • A mammoth greenhouse constructed behind the house this past summer and now has food growing in it year-round. It’s also used as a classroom twice a week for a group of 6th graders from an elementary school across the street who seem hungry to learn about the environment in a fun and educational way. I was lucky enough to witness a Northpointe Academy school assembly during my visit, where animated 6th grade students shared some of their GELT experiences with their entire school of fellow students.

With these green projects under their belt, GELT staffers have countless other big and small plans for the house to become an example of sustainable living and intentional community in Highland Park.

6th grade class at Northpointe Elementary presenting their work with GELT to the rest of the school at an assembly

The highlight of my trip was witnessing the energy and power in the room during the Open House party. Dozens of people gathered together at the GELT headquarters before shifting to the school auditorium to hear presentations by community leaders and staff members about the program successes.

Attendees included Highland Park residents and neighbors, representatives from community organizations, pastors, teachers, elementary school and college students who participated in GELT 9-week summer trainings, and passionate parents and kids. Even the Highland Park Mayor Elect’s mom was there! The excitement about this movement was palpable.

Pastor Bullock addressing the GELT community

We were all inspired by the opening words of Pastor David Bullock – a famous Highland Park leader and partner of the GELT program – who equated the efforts of GELT to bringing Highland Park out of the ashes. Pastor Bullock along with a passionate teacher, a committed 6th grader, and Brandon Knight and Scott Meloeny (the visionaries behind the program) shared stories of the program’s successes over the past two years, and their dreams and plans for the program in the future.

Thanks to all of the Global Exchange and GELT staff in Michigan who made this incredible event – and this valuable program – possible. I left Michigan looking at the world in a new and improved light.




Written by GELT Participant – Dan Tompkins

It was an afternoon in summer. Me, this guy James, and a girl named Marion walked down the middle of the road. We were in a rough area. It’s called Highland Park.

The three of us were working with GELT, a project of Global Exchange, an international human rights organization based in San Francisco that focuses on social, environmental and human rights. In Detroit, Global Exchange wanted to take local action to get some energy efficiency to houses that needed it most. The GELT project had local headquarters just down the street. (more…)

Written by Cory Connolly, aka, “the Finisher”

Why is it that the green economy, in many ways, remains intangible? Why must those who are passionate about people and the environment choose between doing what they want and between living comfortably? What does a green economy look like in the country’s most devastated communities?


A city that once pioneered a new economy for a new America is now passing on its legacy to 21st century entrepreneurs sculpting it’s rebirth from the ashes. The spirit is still here, it actually never left.  Hiding in the halls of historic automotive buildings and creeping into a declining, but indigenous, market place.  Highland Park has changed the world before, and this summer Highland Park will carry the torch once again.     (more…)

(This summer, our Michigan team is working with GreenNation on the Green Economy Leadership Training program. This entry was written by GELT-er Ayoola White. Cross-posted on Solutionaries.net)

Caulk gun? Check.

Window kits? Check.

Toolbox? Sink aerators? Clipboard? Check, check, check.

Every morning, for the week and a half that the GELT team performed weatherizations, we hustled to prepare for the day. We gathered our supplies, called Highland Park residents, and hurried off to our destinations. People generally tend to regard all neglected communities as if they were identical, but we quickly recognized that no two houses were alike, neither in their weatherization needs nor in their family dynamics.

At every household, we were offered a little peek into the stories of those who lived there. Many of the narratives were nonverbal, implied in sighs, creaky stairs, and the giggles of children running around. Karina, an outspoken woman who has resided in the area for a long time, actually took the time to verbalize her story to my partner and me.

What surprised me so much about Karina was how freely she spoke about events in her personal life, especially to two young strangers. She had no qualms whatsoever about conveying her feelings about her ex-husbands, her ailing mother, her battle with drug addiction, or her complaints about certain neighbors. Her narrative was more than a little shocking, but, in the end, she gave a simple, yet moving account of how she took a step toward ridding herself of her pain.

Until recently, Karina never felt comfortable in her own home. To her, the walls held memories of toxic relationships and bitter shouting matches. In her studies as a student of natural healing, she eventually realized that she had to change her surroundings if she was to take control of her life. So she painted her walls a whimsical shade of pink.

Karina’s fundamental lesson for us was the importance of honoring oneself. People without self-respect and self-love are like black holes that swallow everything, even light. They make destructive decisions and can never truly move forward.

Listening to Karina’s story has made me realize that we cannot forget that there are individuals in the environmental movement. Coalition building and community organizing are vital, of course, but we cannot simply regard ourselves as identical cogs in a machine. We must learn our strengths, hone them, and adapt them.

(This summer, our Michigan team is working with GreenNation on the Green Economy Leadership Training program. This entry was written by GELT-er Zack Holden. Cross-posted on Solutionaries.net)

As we came to the door, I was feeling pretty negative. Tired, frustrated with the cancellation of our early morning appointment, I had bitterly informed my partners that they should take the ‘lead’ on this house, that I just wanted to follow orders and let one of them take up the task of explaining who we were and everything we were doing to the home owner. I had a vague sense of ill ease as we reached our destination on Hill Street in the northwest of Highland Park, as the last time we had lugged a weatherization kit through the neighborhood, we had been told we were ‘in the wrong neighborhood’ by a group of teens.

When we came up the front steps and knocked on the door, I noticed the tape holding together the screen door and the lingering smell of stale tobacco, thinking we were in for a interesting experience. We heard a man hollering at us, asking who we were. A woman soon came to the door, asking who we were and who we were looking for, telling us she didn’t want our ‘shit’, Needless to say, we were taken aback by her rather aggressive manner, and the weatherization was nearly dead on arrival, until the man, her husband, informed her that he had in fact signed up. She was further relieved when (in direct contravention of my previous promise to my partners) I explained to her that our service was in fact free, and that we would not only give her the supplies but actually install them as well. When she realized we weren’t trying to scam her or otherwise pull some trick, her demeanor instantly shifted from stand-offish to absolutely friendly, and a smile came over her face.

As we headed into the basement, her husband offered a brief explanation of her initial resistance to us- there had been a ‘death’ recently, and tensions were running high. I didn’t have to wait long to hear the full story. As I burned my fingers trying to install CFLs, she told me that the death in question was in fact a triple murder that had recently occurred on the block, leaving three young men dead, with no news coverage and little hope of justice. She explained her initial hostility, saying there was a huge drug problem on the block.

These were the first revelations of many. As we worked our way through her home, sealing holes, replacing bulbs and sink heads and putting up weatherstripping, we learned that she had reclaimed the home from drug dealers who had taken over the house after her mother’s death, and how strangers still showed up at her door looking for a fix (she thought we were of this category), how drive by shootings were a regular occurrence (instead of putting plastic kits over windows with leaky edges as we might in other homes, we covered the windows taken out by a recent shooting). How murders were common and a 90 year old woman had been raped on the block just the other week. How she wanted to get out of the neighborhood, but she was living on her unemployment checks after losing her job as a medical assistant.

This is the sort of situation that can present the central problem of organizing around environmental and sustainability issues in places like Highland Park. How could she devote attention to protecting our national parks or atmosphere when protecting her home is a matter of life or death? I honestly believe that the solution lies in programs such as Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) and weatherization in particular. It allows for community and its residents to work together not only to save money on their utility bill and understand environmental impacts, but to also reconnect with one another.  Weatherization makes both environmental and economic sense. I hope it can present an outstanding site to develop the necessary, mutually beneficial relationships in places such as Highland Park.

(This summer, our Michigan team is working with GreenNation on the Green Economy Leadership Training program. This entry was written by GELT-er Ayoola White. Cross-posted on Solutionaries.net)

Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) has been filled with varied challenges. One day we’re constructing raised beds out of wood reclaimed from abandoned houses. The next, we’ll discuss applications of permaculture and the dangers of nuclear power. Since we are constantly defining and redefining our goals as a group, our activities tend to be hectic. Last Friday afternoon, we took on yet another challenge: canvassing residents to find candidates for free home energy improvements.

Hitherto that sweltering afternoon our primary interaction with the Highland Park community involved people from the neighborhood coming to us. Kids helped us pull weeds and remove bushes. Adults sat in on classes, sometimes, or walked around, carefully observing our work. Friday was the first day that we, the participants of GELT, collectively went to meet the people we’ve been working to serve. Armed with clipboards, sign-up sheets, and flyers, we fanned out.

Upon reaching the first household in my assigned turf, the southernmost region of Highland Park, I was stunned to discover that the words I had so smoothly recited that morning were not so smooth anymore. It was as though I suddenly had no clue what I was doing anymore. Luckily, my inner nervousness and confusion didn’t flow outward enough to repel absolutely everyone, and I was able to gather a few signatures in the first hour or so. I eventually tweaked my spiel to something that was comfortable for me to remember. But still, in the journey between each door, I kept scrutinizing my tactics. Am I talking too fast? The way I stammer is so embarrassing! Am I saying too much? Did I forget to say ‘thank you’ to that last lady? Is there something in my teeth?

Even when I was able to overcome self-consciousness, though, I felt that there was a moderate disconnect between me and the people I visited. Thankfully, most were friendly, and no one slammed a door in my face, but the people appeared wary of me sometimes. Given my unfamiliar face and the clipboard I was carrying, perhaps I was mistaken for a census worker or a salesperson before I opened my mouth to speak. Some were incredulous that the home energy visit I was describing was free. Others seemed suspicious of me, and they asked me where I was from and whether I worked for a utility company and was trying to get them to switch their service. It was as though there were walls of thick glass separating us, sometimes, making communication challenging.

In addition to reflecting on my own actions those of others, I was also mindful of my physical surroundings. My canvassing partner and I covered a total of three streets in that afternoon. Each street had its own character, its own look. One street was filled with lovely houses and breathtaking gardens, but there weren’t that many people outside enjoying them. The next had houses that were shabbier, but more people were congregating and conversing on porches. The last one was a mix of the two. What a contrast from my neighborhood, where every house, every street is a copy of all the others.

Despite the many abandoned and decrepit houses I saw everywhere, I noticed that immense vibrancy existed among the pockets of squalor. People were walking around, greeting their neighbors. Kids played together and adults watched out for them. What’s more, there were plants growing EVERYWHERE. Lawns, left untamed, exploded with greenery. Leaves and vines grew out of stairs and floorboards. It’s as if millions of sinewy green hands are emerging from the ground to pull the houses into the earth. How ironic it is that places like Highland Park are often thought of as sites of urban decay, when so much growth is taking place.

Since our goal in GELT is community building, not gentrification, it is vital to tap into the positivity that already exists here, rather than assuming that we have all the answers and that we’re here to rescue the weak and the downtrodden. On Friday, we GELT-ers made connections through our canvassing work that I hope will evolve into a strong network of people who will shape their neighborhoods into comfortable, sustainable living spaces. Together, we’ve already gathered about 50 signatures from people who want to make their homes more energy efficient. From here, our impact shall grow.

(Global Exchange’s Michigan team is working with the local community in Detroit to transition it to a clean, green economy starting with Highland Park. One of our Michigan organizers, Scott Meloeny introduces the Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) summer program.)

[Cross-posted from It’s Getting Hot in Here.]

This country has been built and influenced by each generation that has come to pass. While we still face major social issues, these previous generations have contributed some of the most impressive feats known to man, developing unique and marketable skills and tools that have fueled an extraordinary amount of growth and set the highest standard of living the world has ever seen. However, our generational brethren also left behind something else: a very specific mind set on the world.  A mind set that can be seen today powering our infrastructure, shaping our culture, and instilling our values. One that was relative to the times of our mothers and fathers, grandparents and great-grandparents but now stands outdated and dangerous.

Bob Dylan was right when he said “the times, they are a changin’.” In fact, times have changed.  One doesn’t need to look very far to see that our previous generation’s systems, values and ideas were built to be supplied by a finite source that right now is exhausting our planet’s resources, while destroying its species and environment.  It is here we can witness most explicitly our generational divide. One in which past generation’s values, skills and mind sets are no longer suitable or sustainable for us. We need to embrace this divide. But we must do so carefully and in a way that equips our peers with new skills, values and perceptions, and also enables older friends, families and neighbors to partake and share in building a new holistic, clean energy economy.  It’s time to have exponential learning overcome exponential growth. It’s time to value accumulated wisdom overcome accumulated wealth.


To bridge this multi-generational divide we need to integrate education and training,  applying both to communities and peoples who need it the most. Unfortunately, past generations relied on a model where the privileged would go off to higher learning, while others were left behind in communities ill-equipped to make necessary, sustainable changes for growth.  As we have seen recently with our older college grads, the path of post high school education does very little to prepare one for the skills needed to mend social, economic and cultural inequalities.  This is where we believe the first steps can be taken. The skills and knowledge that go beyond the classroom and make tangible impacts in the community is what we at Global Exchange see as a potential equalizer for such existing inequalities.

The Green Economy Leadership Training (GELT) is the first program from GX to begin to integrate education and community while applying empowering solutions derived from these community classrooms.  GELT provides present day skills, knowledge and experience that present and future generations will need to not only assist in building a new energy economy, but also to live in a way that creates a healthy and positive synergy within our world. With technical skills in renewable energies, energy efficiency, permaculture and community development combined with personal skills in chi-wellness, yoga, nutritional health and lifestyle consciousness, GELT seeks to train and empower generations of people to collectively build, work and live in the clean energy economy.


The Green Economy Leadership Training, a Global Exchange and GreeNation program, calls Highland Park (HP), Michigan headquarters.  Once a model city for all to follow, HP no longer finds its current infrastructure and skills suitable for a clean economy transition. However,  HP has the unique opportunity to restructure its system, re-skill its workforce and reactivate its pioneering attitude that once led a nation decades ago and become one of the first clean economies of its kind.

Although only its first year, GELT will look to achieve some watershed moments by the end of summer.  Already, ten individuals have received their certification in permaculture.  Even more are being trained on how to weatherize homes and will then go out and perform up to 200 weatherizations throughout the city.  This is especially important, as up to 40% of Highland Park residents live under the poverty level, making it very difficult for many to adequately heat their homes.  Proper weatherizations will provide a 10-15% decrease in monthly bills, giving some financial relief to local residents but more importantly providing them a safe, warm home during Michigan’s long winters.  In addition to training, classes in demand-side economics for renewable energy and energy efficiency will give participants the understanding of what it takes to transition to a clean energy economy at both the local and national level.

2010 Summer GELT Course Catalog

GELT is also building for the long term to create a model clean energy economy and it all begins at the micro level. It’s here GELT is seeking to create a foundation for a city wide food system that will provide nutritional food year round to all its residents as well as install a farmers market that will be available in the fall of 2011. This will be done by redeveloping vacant lots throughout the city and connecting them into block based cooperatives that give ownership to residents.  However, achieving food security for local residents will not be our only goal.  GELT will also look to implement a micro-grid utility over the next three years.  This entity will provide energy to residents in a variety of ways.  First, by converting two homes into utilities that provide electricity and hot water (solar photovoltaic and solar hot water) through renewable sources, as well as heating and cooling (geo-thermal). Residents will then have the opportunity to reap the benefits of renewable energy and ownership of their power production.  These localizes systems will look to employ community residents so that we may come full circle in providing a community based model of the clean energy economy.

The Green Economy Leadership Training will be a flagship program of Global Exchange, as we will continue to run more programs throughout the fall and winter and into the new year until we can make our vision a reality; a community model of a holistic, clean energy economy. It’s always been said that a narrow mind set is an obstacles to change, but we hope through our community actions to overcome even this profound psychological barrier.  GELT seeks to be one of many actions that will bring about tangible solutions for creating a model clean energy economy in Highland Park, Michigan. Because as today’s generational shift continues, we must fully embrace the responsibility to continue healthy evolutions in this country as well as doing what we can to reverse problematic ones.