Today we’d like to introduce you to Michela Williams.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Michela. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
As a child, I enjoyed staying indoors and watching TV. Going outside and exercising brought me stress. While I enjoyed playing sports for the comradery, I never stopped to think about the environment around me. I didn’t see my family or friends camping or enjoying the outdoors. My introduction to nature was horror movies and warnings about going too deep in the forest. My perspective started to change when I developed a love for animals by connecting with dogs. I remember getting my first dog and immediately getting scared but then getting excited once she licked me. Even though I built this appreciation for dogs, I was still nervous about exploring all of nature. Little did I know I would find my passion and purpose in the woods!
I grew up in Griffin, Georgia, with the dream of becoming a lawyer. My father and I watched a lot of crime shows and I remember the most powerful scenes always happened in court once the victim receives justice. After high school, I attended Georgia State University. I intended to study criminal justice but was intrigued by my economics class. After learning about policy impact on the economy, I felt that I could advocate justice differently. I later changed my major to Economics and minored in Marketing. I was able to receive a scholarship to study abroad and learn about policies in different European countries. My experience helped me narrow down exactly what I wanted to do, which was work for a non-profit. I wanted to help people directly and build strong connections with communities. After college, I interned with a few amazing non-profits but was having trouble finding an internship that paid. I received an email from the Greening Youth Foundation about an internship being offered with the U.S. Forest Service.
The position title was Partnership Coordinator and the pay was exactly what I needed at the time. As I submitted my application, I was unsure about what I would be doing, or who the Forest Service was. Leading up to the interview, I decided to do a little more research and was reconsidering my application. The Forest Service looked like a work environment that was not welcoming, considering that the images of the workforce did not reflect my community and most of the work looked like it was done outside. When I went in for my interview, initially, my concerns heightened as I didn’t see anyone of color. These concerns melted away quickly, however, when my soon to be supervisor began to explain that there is an obvious problem with the lack of people of color who recreate outside or work in the outdoor industry. She continued and let me know that I could play a huge role in changing this by introducing my community to new opportunities. The passion in her words was truly infectious and gave me the courage to want to take on this position to face my fears. I was later offered the position and started a new chapter in my life.
For the next two and a half years, I found myself immersed in this exciting new world. As Partnership Coordinator, I had the opportunity to work with wonderful partners who had the resources and the determination to provide underrepresented communities with opportunities to recreate and explore the forest right outside of their neighborhoods. Planning campouts and providing schools with environmental education programs became my life. Through this work, I was able to reach over 14,000 kids, secure grants, and plan two urban campouts. We also attend university career fairs to recruit for positions with the Forest Service and our partners, such as Greening Youth Foundation. This work began to go over into my personal life and changed the way I spent my free time. Hiking trails and sleeping in tents became my weekend ritual! I began to be adventurous because I was no longer being educated about the outdoors by people who feared it. My new knowledge came from working closely with land managers, communities, and non-profits that were striving for a more diverse and inclusive future.
After this internship ended, Tony Heard and I started Black Too Earth. Tony had a wilderness background and we both have a passion for supporting the black community. We decided to start hosting sight visits and volunteer days once a month at black-owned farms. Our mission is to connect black people with black environmental organizations through site visits and volunteer opportunities. We want to inspire and celebrate our community while investing in underrepresented organizations. Our activities aim to foster stewardship, community, and intentional consumption amongst our participants. We started hosting meetups in September of 2019. So far, we have partnered with Gratitude Botanical Farm, Soul-Spirit Farmers, Habesha Farm, Flora Gothica farms, Urban Sprout Farms, and Historic Westside Gardens to host volunteer days and online meetups. While we don’t have much experience in planting, we enjoy learning best practices for growing with our participants. Our future goals are to continue to connect with black-owned farms nationally and train leaders to organize more meetups.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The hardest obstacle so far has been readjusting our vision around the COVID-19 pandemic. We had to rethink how we will continue to connect the black community to black-owned farms and new ways to support these farms. We decided to start hosting online lunch and learns with a focus on easy to plant herbs that would build up immunity. While this pandemic has changed the way we will host our future meetups, we are still dedicated to educating and providing a connection between the community and the resources around us.
Please tell us about Black Too Earth.
Black Too Earth is a meetup group dedicated to connecting the black community with black environmental organizations through site visits and volunteer opportunities. We want to inspire and celebrate our community while investing in underrepresented organizations. Our activities aim to foster stewardship, community, and intentional consumption amongst our participants. We have four goals exposure, education, consistency, and community. We continue to expose the black community to local food resources and reintroduce an element of our culture that has been forgotten. We will continue to partner with farmers to educate our community about the best farming practices. We will be consistent in supporting our farmers and volunteers in the best ways possible. We will continue to provide a community for those who feel left out and unheard in the environmental world. BlacktooEarth also works to change the perception around volunteering in the Black community. We take into account the long history of our community being forced to work for free for white oppressors and we want to give you the option to come volunteer for someone who looks like you and cares about you!
What sets us apart are the direct connections we build between the farmers and our participants. All of our meetups start with a tour of the farm and an introduction into how the farmers start growing. We offer a free way of learning from some of the best farmers in Atlanta while connecting with a new network of agricultural business owners. What we are most proud of is the bond we’ve been able to build with the partnering farms and our volunteer’s expression of gratitude every time we host a meetup. We have people from all walks of life coming to reconnect with gardening, learn how to plant for the first time, or give to something bigger than themselves. It feels good to be able to offer this experience for our community!
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Black Too Earth would not be possible without the other co-founder Tony Heard. He has been behind the scenes taking photos, editing our videos, organizing and advising me. When I get stressed or overwhelmed, he is always there to lift me and take over things if need be.
I have been blessed with many mentors and cheerleaders. My biggest cheerleaders are always my family. My parents Curtis Williams and Terrie Allen are both entrepreneurs. My father has had a windshield shop called Sunnyside Glass since I was a kid and my mother plans to start her own business called Allen Family Healthcare. Having fearless business owners as parents gives me the confidence to continue to grow Black Too Earth. I also have to thank my siblings Kevin Allen and Katherine Williams, for pushing me to start up my meetup group and volunteering with Black Too Earth. My sister-in-law Victoria Allen has been helping us prepare for our future ventures and the launch of Black Too Earth as an official non-profit.
I have to give a huge thanks to all the farmers who have been willing to partner with us! Chris Lemons of Gratitude Botanical Farm was the first black farmer I connected within Atlanta. He was more than willing to let us host our first meetup on his farm and has been a phenomenal resource ever since. Our volunteers keep me going and have continued to be consistent. I have to give thanks to my friend Dashana Hubbert who has shown up to volunteer at all of our in-person events except one and encouraged me to start my own business.
- Website: www.blacktooearth.com
- Phone: 404-578-0925
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @blacktooearth
- Facebook: @blacktooearth