Adrienne Rice, founder and executive director of Sustainable Georgia Futures, wants to solve two pressing problems at once: systemic racism and climate change. The two issues inextricably intertwine for Black communities in Georgia.
The country’s entrenched history of racism continues hurting nonwhite people and burdens them with the most dangerous effects of climate change, while simultaneously stifling the ability to build wealth and participate in the solutions. That’s why Rice launched her nonpartisan grassroots organization to build channels so that Black and Brown communities can help develop and benefit from a regenerative economy. At heart, it’s about building power and healing broken systems.
“We’re trying to get people to do a paradigm shift in the way they’re dealing with Black communities,” says Rice. “This allows them to chart out their destinies and create change.”
It’s a journey of a thousand steps, and one that’s more pressing than ever. One step along the way is a partnership with the City of Atlanta through its WeatheRISE program. The program aims to improve the housing conditions of Atlanta’s most energy burdened neighborhoods by providing energy efficiency and other home upgrades. The upgrades will reduce electricity and gas bills, decrease carbon emissions, improve health outcomes, generate jobs, and preserve affordable housing.
It's a relatively small project within a larger plan for Atlanta running off of 100% clean energy by 2035. Atlanta is in the top five most energy burdened cities in the country, where median energy burdens for low- and moderate-income households hovering between 9% and 13% despite low electricity rates. And 100% of the most energy burdened neighborhoods in Atlanta are primarily Black, according to the Greenlink Equity Map (GEM).
“The GEM system has been really helpful because we’re supposed to focus on the highest energy burden areas,” said Rice. “It also helps us engage.”
Greenlink Analytics is undertaking the community mapping, analysis, and data reporting of the WeatheRISE program. The National Association of Minority Contractors will provide the energy audits and upgrades and job opportunities for contractor training. And Sustainable Georgia Futures is leading the outreach, education and enrollment components through neighborhood canvassing.
Representation matters. Involvement also matters. Sustainable Georgia Futures has hired 11 community leaders from the most burdened communities to serve as “Campaign Ambassadors” for the program. These Ambassadors will canvas door to door to further connect with people and identify specific needs.
Bringing these Ambassadors on board also means recognizing that their circumstances differ from community leaders in less burdened areas. It’s a gap that must be bridged. So, Sustainable Georgia Futures is funding their transportation, childcare, meals, and paying them $20/hour to do this important work. That pay rate will increase to $25 in January 2024 after the organization receives additional funding.
“That way when they arrive, they don’t have to worry,” emphasizes Rice. “We’re showing people how to treat Black people.”
Sustainable Georgia Futures and the Ambassadors have already knocked on over 1,000 of the 5,000-door goal. One hundred and eighty-seven people have signed up for the community survey that only requires a total of 200 people. With the program only recently launched, these numbers reveal the high level of interest and need in these communities. And that’s why Sustainable Georgia Future’s vision reaches far beyond WeatheRISE.
WeatheRISE is the launchpad to identify leaders and activists in the counties they’re working in. The next step will be creating organizing committees with these 11 communities. The third phase will focus on community specific issue-based campaigns. It’s a multi-year process that slowly builds much needed power within Black communities in Atlanta.
“It’s not enough to elect a few better representatives or pass a few better laws,” says Rice. “When we listen to the people closest to the problem and take action together, then we make change.”