Creating Greener Future for Urban Youth

Bay Area attorney hopes "green" jobs will lift inner-city youth out of poverty.

ByABC News
February 13, 2008, 6:49 PM

Feb. 13, 2008— -- Van Jones was tired of going to funerals.

Jones, a Yale law school graduate from rural Tennessee, spent years trying to help troubled inner-city youths get out of jail and into the real world, but he was repeatedly disheartened when kids wound up back in prison because they couldn't find jobs.

"On a personal level I just got burned out," said Jones, who founded the Ella Baker Center in Oakland, Calif., a nonprofit that advocates social justice. "You put your face to the furnace all the time, going to a lot of funerals, a lot of court hearings, things not working out the way you wanted them to."

And then it clicked. Jones realized that as the United States pursues renewable energy technologies and becomes more environmentally responsible, there will be a need for workers with green skills.

"I just had this epiphany in mind and said, you know, these kids in America need green jobs, not jails, that's what they need," he said. "We want to lift a quarter million people out of poverty into the green economy by creating green-collared job training, employer incentives and entrepreneur opportunities."

In this "green-collared" world that Jones envisions, inner-city youth would climb out of poverty by installing solar panels, retrofitting buildings to become more sustainable and taking on green construction jobs with hefty pay checks. He said this could all be achieved through training in high schools and community colleges, giving disadvantaged young people a "pathway out of poverty."

"If you teach a young person how to put up solar panels, that kid is on their way to becoming an electrical engineer," he said. "They could join the United Electrical Workers Union. If you teach a kid how to weatherize a building, double-pane the glass so that it doesn't leak so much energy, that kid is on his way to becoming a glazer that can join a union."

Launching the Campaign

Because Jones knew setting his plan in motion would be a huge undertaking, he reached out to other environmental groups to build a green coalition.