Aliyah Collins and Wawa Gatheru have been awarded for their efforts rooted in supporting others during climate change.
They are among three other Tom’s of Maine Incubator winners to be awarded $20,000. They will also receive mentorship, work opportunities, and aid from Tom’s of Maine in addition to funding.
Collins, 24, saw her efforts recognized for the Eco Healing Project, which highlights the impact of climate disasters on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as shows students how they can use planting and gardening as a spiritual practice to work through mental health challenges that arise after such events.
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“I was influenced to start this project because my senior year, when I was at Fisk University, I experienced a climate disaster, a violent tornado that came through the North Nashville area and devastated the community where my institution was located,” Collins told AfroTech in an exclusive interview. “I experienced the mental impact of that aftermath. I was a full-time student. I was also working and also having to deal with having to recover from this violent tornado, not having electricity or power for days, and just having to navigate that was just very stressful for myself and also my peers. So, it really inspired me to create a solution for HBCU students who are experiencing the mental health impact of climate disasters and operating a solution to try to help mitigate that.”
With the new funding, the Tennessee native will be able to pilot the project. As a result, she seeks to provide schools with resources for their gardens as well as provide students with spiritual care frameworks to bring the project to their HBCUs.
“I’m in the process of connecting with HBCUs who have gardens,” Collins explained. “A lot of HBCUs don’t have gardens, so this is also a project to advocate for more equitable access to green spaces for HBCUs. So, it’s still building up, but I have been in contact with some HBCUs, and they really like the project and think the project would be great for students. It would be a great therapy resource. It’d be a great spiritual care resource. So I’m excited to see where it goes.”
As for the Connecticut native Gatheru, she also has big plans that will be supported by the five-figure investment. She leads Black Girl Environmentalist (BGE) and, according to the official website, the organization is described as a community dedicated to empowering “Black girls, women, and non-binary people across environmental disciplines.” As part of the effort to create a more inclusive space and provide the community with solid footing, participants can expect mentorship, programming, and educational tools.
“What we’re doing with Black Girl Environmentalist is to create space for Black girls, Black women, and Black non-binary environmentalists, and spaces that speak to our unique environmental expertise and leadership that don’t exist in the wider audience,” Gatheru explained to AfroTech. “So, with BGE, we’ve done in-person and virtually, one of the most important feedbacks that we’ve gotten is that people are being able to experience joy and optimism in the climate space.”
She continued: “I think in our organizing spaces, especially in the climate space, we have to be creating conditions that look like the world we’re trying to love into existence. And with BGE, when we get to convene in person, I think we get glimpses and the ability to taste a better world, a world that centers Black women and Black fems in environmentalism.”
Looking ahead, Gatheru shared the funding will support BGE’s capacity building, allowing leads to be compensated for their contributions on the platform and help with access to resources. In addition, the investment will be allocated toward a fundraiser for a fellowship program, expected to launch in the summer of 2024.