Van Jones

Human Rights Activist, 39

Feb 29, 2008
Outside Magazine
Van Jones

Van Jones photographed at the People's Grocery Community Garden, in Oakland, California

"We can no longer have a racially segregated, class-indifferent environmental movement," says Jones, a Yale-educated lawyer who cofounded the Oakland, California–based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "We need ordinary working folks who aren't worrying about how they're going to put solar panels on their second home." Jones thinks saving the environment isn't possible without saving our inner cities, an issue he's been striving to address for more than a decade. His approach? Help both simultaneously. In June 2007, the charismatic activist created Green for All, an initiative that trains inner-city youth in eco-friendly work. If we trade blue-collar jobs for green-collar ones, Jones says, we'll keep kids out of prisons by teaching them skills—like installing solar panels on homes—that can't be outsourced. Congress passed the initiative as the Green Jobs Act of 2007, which will authorize $125 million to train 35,000 people each year. "Right now, the icon of our environmental movement is someone wearing Birkenstocks, doing yoga, and eating tofu," says Jones. "We need a new icon: the hard-hat-wearing, lunch-bucket-carrying, sleeves-rolled-up man or woman that's fixing America."

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