Detroit is full of leaders — look in every neighborhood, every business, and every nonprofit, and you’ll find them. They’re usually humble and want to give credit to someone else. Without their efforts, we’d be lessened.
That’s why Planet Detroit decided to honor the people and organizations making a difference in our local climate response. So we asked our readers to nominate the folks they saw making a real difference. We are thrilled to celebrate the following leaders this year:
Thomasenia Weston, Neighborhood Leader
Thomasenia Weston refuses to let her voice be drowned out in the clamor of noise and pollution from the trucks in her southwest Detroit neighborhood. The longtime resident speaks up against noise pollution in an often underserved part of the city. The noise isn’t the only pollution in the area; Weston calls the smog and exhaust belched out into her neighborhood “pollution terrorism.”
Watson, her daughter, and her grandchildren all suffer from asthma. She and other community members have monitored pollution levels and spoken on behalf of other residents of the bridge area to push for more stringent monitoring and controls by city and state governments.
Tammy Black, Neighborhood Leader
Tammy Black’s home on Manistique is a bustling gathering spot for her neighborhood. With six children of her own, she is dedicated to creating a welcoming and nurturing place for the residents of Jefferson Chalmers on the city’s east side. She founded the Manistique Community Treehouse Center, which works in partnership with the Manistique Block Club to empower youth to understand the importance of mental and physical well-being in connection with the environment. That work has become even more critical as the Jefferson Chalmers community continues to feel the impact of climate change on the neighborhood’s flooding problems. Black has seen the devastating effects of frequent storms firsthand.
“Everyone needs these spaces where you can build your confidence, build your self-esteem, and improve your life,” Black says. She and her partners forge alliances with other nonprofits, public and private donors, and other groups to bring solar energy to the neighborhood. So far, Black and her associates have helped more than 25 families install solar power in their homes in Jefferson Chalmers. “Solar power’s renewable energy saves low-income residents money and helps them be more sustainable in the process,” Black said.
Danielle Todd, Nonprofit Leader
Danielle Todd is the founder and executive director of Make Food Not Waste, a nonprofit dedicated to combating climate change by keeping food waste out of landfills. Beginning by preventing too much food from being produced and moving down the cycle of food production and use, Make Food Not Waste works closely with food producers and chefs all over metro Detroit to keep methane-producing food from landfills and feed hungry people in the process.
Todd’s grandparents owned a farm when she was younger, and she credits this and her previous work in nonprofits dealing with food insecurity with the idea of starting Make Food Not Waste.
At its first community feast in Eastern Market in 2018, Make Food Not Waste highlighted the talents of some of Detroit’s top chefs to craft dishes from food that would otherwise have gone to waste. Partnering with food growers like Keep Growing Detroit and chefs from Mabel Grey, Standby, and others, the organization fed more than 2,500 people that first year and 3,500 the following year. In 2021, Make Food Not Waste opened its permanent Upcycle Kitchen, which feeds the community weekly from Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church.
“By keeping food out of landfills, you’re keeping methane out of the atmosphere,” says Todd. “Now that people increasingly understand that we don’t live on a planet with infinite resources, we have to take care of these resources a lot more. Treating our food better is the easiest way to do that.”
Mira Hughes, Youth Climate Leader
2022 Planet Detroit Youth Climate Leader Mira Hughes has been an ardent and active participant in the fight against climate change since her early teens. As a student at Hamtramck High School, Hughes was a part of the Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Preservation (LEAP), which started a school-wide recycling program.
She also worked closely with Rev. Sharon Buttry on the Be a Good Neighbor Initiative, which pairs high school students with community members and elders to make Hamtramck a more clean, safe, and sustainable place to live.
“Having the support of Reverend Sharon and the ability to get the word out to the community about recycling opportunities and ways to make the city more beautiful has been a big influence on me,” Hughes said.
Through the Be a Good Neighbor program, Hughes also works with Buttry to recruit speakers for Hamtramck students, educating them about environmental justice issues. The group also conducts regular cleanups of city parks, plants trees, and flowers, and participates in the Bandhu Gardens at the city’s northern border with Detroit, which grows vegetables traditional to Bangladeshi immigrants and longtime Detroiters, and sells the excess produce at Eastern Market.
High school-age and younger students “don’t necessarily get the education to connect the dots between climate change and what happens in their everyday life as Michigan residents. Just having that knowledge accessible is powerful,” Hughes said. Now a freshman at the University of Michigan, Hughes is double majoring in Environmental Sciences and Art and Design, where she applies data about climate change to shape her design work.