CELA Award Winner: David McNeill

Our George W. Carver Environmental Legacy Awards (CELA) is coming up in April to celebrate Earth Day and the accomplishments of members in our community who have made extraordinary accomplishments within the environmental movement. 

We will honor four awardees during the April 20 event at the California Science Center. Today, we’d like to introduce you to David McNeill, Executive Officer of the Baldwin Hills and Urban Watersheds Conservancy.

We recognize David for playing an instrumental role in many open space projects that have connected our communities with green space so that more people can enjoy the great outdoors. The Park the Playa Trail is a wonderful example of the important work that he’s done in his role, and his dedication to creating green space access for our community. 

Here’s more from our interview with David: 

David started with the Baldwin Hills and Urban Watersheds Conservancy 21 years ago, and said he was drawn to the mission because of its focus on creating access to green space for those currently without. He cited something called, “outdoor deficit disorder,” referring to youth that had never been to the forest or the beach – their only understanding of the outside world? Concrete.

“We were the poster child for equity and putting parks where people are – it wasn’t so much a matter of saving a species or dealing with the environment, as it was providing access to communities of color to get into the environment,” David said. “I am a people person – I wouldn’t be in this if it wasn’t impacting people’s lives. The most impactful work that I’ve done revolves around youth and families enjoying open space, and more importantly building a pipeline for people to do my job, except for to do it better than I did.”

David also advocates for individuals to be better heard, and especially for minority communities to realize they have a voice that can create needed change around them. Importantly, he says, every individual needs to find the puzzle piece that will create personal interest and passion within an environmental mission.

“You want a spark to happen,” he said. “You can have what you want as long as you know what you want and you ask for it.” 

For example, if an individual really likes bird watching – ask: how can I make that happen in my community? Or, to think: I think I should be able to walk to a park, how do I make that happen?

“I say you need to go out and have a voice and take control of it and get some ownership – finding that ownership is the key,” he said.

When it comes to enjoying nature, David said he enjoys road trips and exploring the various landscapes of California, having attended school in Oregon and driven the route many times.

“All the natural beauty that California has to offer humbles me,” David said.

We are truly humbled by the work that David has done to change the connection that so many underserved in our region have to nature, and look forward to presenting him with this much deserved award on April 20.

More About CELA

Dr. George Washington Carver, an African American scientist, naturalist, visionary and environmentalist saw it fitting to pursue a life of uplifting his community through the use of ecology and science. His vision lives with us today. The GW Carver Environmental Legacy Awards is intended to serve as recognition for outstanding devotion and service to mankind.

Our award recognizes leaders within their prospective fields of academia, green technology/STEM, environmental justice/advocacy, entertainment and community service categories. These outstanding citizens have distinguished themselves within their prospective professions to have made a positive impact on humanity and our environment. We seek to honor their service to humanity and achievements with our award during this annual gala celebration.

A Reflection on 20 Years of Environmental Action as We Celebrate Our Anniversary

It is no simple mission we set out on 20 years ago, when California Greenworks moved from idea to reality. Yet, it is the simple things over time that have left an impression.

As a founder, I, alongside my good friend Nancy, was baffled at the urban blight that plagued the inner city. Yet, motivated by an inner passion for green spaces and equal rights for disadvantaged communities – we testified against the litter in our oceans and streets, the environmental inequities that faced the world, a community filled with systems of injustice … we started California Greenworks. 

We took on our mission as protecting the planet from these systems of injustice: not solely for the sake of the planet, but, importantly, for the sake of our fellow citizens. 

This first step was two decades ago. 

One of the most important lessons we have learned is scalability. We do not – and in fact, cannot – solve every issue wholly and miraculously. One tree can make a difference. One community clean up can create positive outcomes. One student’s life impacted can make a difference.

For example, I remember a student participating in our youth education program, and he told me this program gave him his first opportunity to see the ocean. It really struck me how simple things like a visit to the beach may not be simple to others. This scenario is one among the long list of burdens of climate injustice.

While every one act makes a difference, the fact of scalability is one we must address our current climate with now. The world is on a path towards calamity. Since an ecosystem is, by definition, about connections and systems, an often overlooked connection within environmentalism is the social justice aspect. 

Today, in America, there are systems in place that pave the way towards calamity. Institutions designed to protect us, instead commit murder. When the simple utterance of Black Lives Matter creates anger and fear, this is a symptom of the calamitous path. 

Throughout the history of the United States, people of color have been targeted and attacked for being people of color. This system has plagued these populations in marginalized communities, disproportionately impacted by issues of climate change – among other challenges. Since these atrocities are systemic, the solutions must also be systemic. 

We cannot solve everything at once, but we can create means of redemption. If you are concerned with the foreboding environment, we remind you that the environment can only be saved when our systems of injustice are footnotes in history. As a scalable remedy, we invite everyone to say the names of the most recent victims of this system: Alonzo Bagley, Tyre Nichols, Keenan Anderson, Eric Holmes, Ki’Azia Miller, Eric Allen … the list is tremendous. Through remembrance we can be motivated towards action. Through one single action, we can be motivated to take the next step and create more action.

Now we must march forward together, tackling issues of climate inequity, climate change and planet earth sustainability. We have to take a more proactive position, and get in control of our environment and that means finding ways to reduce fossil fuels and be more responsive to the needs of our climate. 

There are great places in our city that we can enjoy. For example, Kenneth Hahn Park is among my favorite places to visit – it’s close to me, and it’s improved quite considerably over the years. This is proof that, working together, we can create positive change and restore our environment.

I look forward to meeting more community members and working alongside you to create this change, for the next 20 years and beyond. 

Celebrating 20 Years in Service

Our team at California Greenworks is excited to celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2023. We’d love you to join us this year in our mission to create a more equitable and green community. Check out our upcoming CELA Awards ceremony, where you can meet environment leaders honored for their impact, and be inspired to take environmental action.