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Make It Personal

We live in the hood. After leaving Harlem in 2009 to live in the drive-everywhere suburbs of Maryland, I didn’t think Hubby and I would find ourselves back here again, but this gorgeous, cheap, gut-reno row house rental appealed to our design sensibility and our need to save for our forever home. So we moved to a decidedly rough neighborhood in Baltimore, where we could happily return to the walk-to-the-park-and-eat-dinner-in-the-grass way of life we enjoyed Uptown.

I’ve always done pretty well in “rough” neighborhoods. I didn’t grow up in one, but I have home training: you always speak, you get to know your neighbors, you give a damn about the area, even when it appears that others don’t. But I can’t front, as much as I enjoy Miss Tina and her brood next door, I find myself disliking where I live for the first time. There are the (multiple) warnings from the police that Hubby shouldn’t let me go out alone at night, the noise that at times wakes Babygirl at 2 a.m., the kid who opened fire at 7:30 p.m. on a Tuesday in full view of old folks and babies, and—my impetus for writing—the crinkly, sticky, crumbly garbage that seems to conceive and birth baby garbage on my block every day. It’s nothing new: when folks don’t feel that their community is invested in them, they don’t feel invested in it. Tossing a Flamin’ Hot Cheetos bag on the sidewalk when you’re done with it is a way of shrugging your shoulders at your city’s indifference. “Whatever. I don’t care, either.”

As I was cleaning up yet another Styrofoam drink container from my stoop this weekend, I thought about what a luxury it is to worry about the environment. Not in the sense that it’s monetarily expensive: it costs nothing to separate your recyclables and take them down for special Friday morning pickup. But when you’re worried that sitting the can out on Thursday night could put your life in danger, it puts being green in a new light. And that’s just on the street; I don’t pretend to know what folks are dealing with in their lives, but I do know that the statistics consistently show that Black folks are having a hard time in this country. The Black unemployment rate is 13.6%, versus 8.2% nationwide. We’re nearly twice as likely to live within two miles of a hazardous waste facility as we are to live elsewhere. More than 54% of our women are battling obesity, and 20% of us have no health insurance. We’re in search of healthy fare in food deserts like Detroit (where we make up a record 84.3% of the population), and only 18% of us have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

It’s no accident that “Black” comes before “Green” in the title of this blog—being Black has an inescapable impact on every aspect of my life, while Green is something I choose to be. And I think it’s naïve to think that a people struggling with what’s right in front of them will jump to make a grand ideal like “environmentalism” an important issue in their lives. But if we think of being green as a personal issue—one that affects not just the dolphins in some far away ocean, but whether or not our little ones develop eczema and asthma after using scented body products; not just the amount of global warming-contributing methane gas produced by cows, but our kids’ likelihood of developing cancer from a diet high in red meat; not just where landfills are located, but how our children care for their own neighborhoods (see: my dirty stoop, above)—maybe we will realize that we can’t separate ourselves from the world we live in. Everything is, quite simply, connected, and the choices we make every day can make a difference in our quality of life. Here’s to making it personal.


What does being green mean to you? Are you striving to leave the earth better than you found it for you children’s sake? Avoid harsh chemical cleaners because you hate the smell? Let me know!


I’m Kenrya Rankin Naasel, a lifestyle expert who—after much prodding from her friends—decided to share her hippie-dippie Black chick mama life.