Signs of Sustainability

We have a long way to go, but we're making progress. Here are some signs that we are moving towards sustainability.

February 23, 2015

Mothers Out Front: Advocates for Change

Tompkins Weekly 2-23-15

By Neely Kelly

“We are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last that will be able to do anything about it.” -Rising Seas Summit Fall 2014

Russia 2010, 50,000 deaths from record-breaking wildfires. Catastrophic Mississippi River floods, American mid-west 2011. Widespread drought, United States 2012. Hurricane Sandy, 2012. Ever stronger and more frequent tornadoes: Alabama 2011, Missouri, 2011, Oklahoma, 2013. Australia, 2013, a heat wave so intense new weather charts were made. South Buffalo, NY 2014, seven feet of snow on one November day. Our state, our country, our planet, is experiencing a man-made climate crisis.

Mothers have a sacred duty to protect their children and their children’s future. Today, climate change threatens the future of all children. By burning fossil fuels to run our cars, warm our homes, keep our lights on, and farm our food, humans are warming Earth’s climate. The scientific evidence is indisputable: increasing numbers of extreme weather events, quickly melting polar ice caps, continuing rise of global mean temperatures and sea levels, and extinction rates exceeding anything seen in millions of years.

We can change this trajectory, but time is running out. Existing clean, renewable energy technologies can reduce and eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels. What’s missing, is the political will to do so. We mothers must organize and act now.

Mothers Out Front is a grassroots organization giving mothers, grandmothers, and allies the opportunity to organize and build power so our leaders will have no choice but to act to transition our society away from fossil fuels as swiftly as possible.

My name is Neely Kelley and I am the New York State Lead Organizer for Mothers Out Front. My daughters, Martha and Jessie, are in second and third grade. I grew up in Greenville, SC, but now live in Rochester. I was not always a climate change activist. In fact, I denied climate science; scoffing at scientists who claimed humans could permanently change earth’s climate by burning fossil fuels.

That began to change in 2001. I joined the Peace Corps and served in Gabon, Central Africa. There, I witnessed firsthand the irreparable damage humans can do to our planet. Logging the magnificent Gabonese tropical rainforests was a major industry for the country. I watched logging trucks roll through my village, carrying the biggest trees I’d ever seen—hundreds of years old, many feet in diameter, being cut down hour after hour, day after day, week after week. Witnessing this massive destruction, I began to think differently about the human impact on our planet. I felt distinct emotions: anger, sadness, and hopelessness. What could I, one individual, possibly do to change this? And my community depended on the jobs provided by those logging companies for its livelihood. The workers were the parents of my students. I didn’t want people to starve—but I didn’t want us to destroy the forest either. The problem was overwhelmingly complicated, and I felt utterly powerless.

Twelve years and two children later, I no longer deny the scientific reality of man-made climate change. As I watch and experience first hand our earth’s climate system grow more chaotic, I feel increasing urgency. What can one mother possibly do? Recycle? Drive less? Pay for renewable energy? Buy a Terrapass? We do all these things, but the system is not changing fast enough. Our leaders are not acting boldly enough. Without committed, collective action, transitioning away from fossil fuels entirely will not happen.

Mothers Out Front was founded in 2013 to give mothers a pathway to committed, collective action. It starts with house parties. In just two years, we have grown from two mothers meeting at a climate vigil on the Boston Common to a full-fledged organization. In Massachusetts we have engaged 1200 mothers through house parties, trained 150 active volunteers, and have established 10 Community Organizing Teams.

Last November, Mothers Out Front expanded into New York State, starting in Rochester. Through 12 facilitated house parties, we have connected with and engaged 85 mothers in Rochester and the Adirondacks. We have one local Community Organizing Team in Rochester, 15 active volunteers, 56 supporters and house parties planned in New York City and Tompkins County in March. This fall we will launch our first New York statewide campaign to transition the state away from fossil fuels as swiftly as possible.

Our movement needs you. And so I invite you to join us. Join us in building our power as mothers, grandmothers, and allies so that all children and future generations inherit a livable climate.

Sign Our Declaration.

Inquire about hosting a house party in your community.

Contact Abigail Mchugh-Grifa: to learn about March house parties in Tompkins County.

Neely Kelley is New York State Lead Organizer for Mothers Out Front.


February 16, 2015

Multi-Faith Award Goes to ‘Safety’ Creators

Tompkins Weekly 2-16-15

By Eric Clay

Sarah Chalmers Simmons and Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. have been named the recipients of this year’s Multi-Faith World Award. They are the leading forces behind the community-based play SAFETY, which examines community and police relations in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

The Multi-Faith World Award recognizes persons’ efforts to “keep faith” with others as equals through high impact or high visibility service for the common good.  Recipients bridge differences in values, politics, religion or economic class, without attempting to convert the “other” to their own identity or values, especially when the recipients’ efforts may put them at some risk of losing their standing within their original community or organization.

Area Congregations Together (ACT) and Shared Journeys chose Sarah and Godfrey for their leadership and work with Civic Ensemble in crafting SAFETY, which highlights the distinct challenges of feeling safe across diverse racial and economic groups, as well as with uniformed officers charged with law enforcement. As a couple, Sarah and Godfrey’s lives are an example of and dedication to exploring issues that foster clarity and hope in the face of prejudice and fear.

Both communities of color and uniformed officers were initially highly suspicious and doubtful about, and at times resistant to, this effort. With skill, grace and a tragic circumstance–in the timing of the killing of Michal Brown–they secured passionate, community-based participation across constituents. Their work opened up the wounds of suspicion and prejudice, as well as the longing for peace and hope from all sides, characterizing the many breakdowns in community/police relations.

The award consists of a plaque and an empty bowl.  With 37 symbols of diverse ways of life, the plaque honors the many ways people live and believe the world is and ought to be, and implores everyone to “Share the journey–Live your own–Honor all.”  The empty bowl represents a simple meal and the idea that we must feed one another, and not harm one another, whether in times peace or conflict, if we are all to thrive.

SAFETY had 7 performances in 5 diverse settings around Ithaca, and a film has been made. The Award honors quality work on a controversial and timely issue, from the lives of everyday people, with one viewer noting that the video seems destined to be screened at film festivals. Moving Box Studios of Ithaca is in the process of producing this video, and Civic Ensemble has plans to revisit SAFETY in the near future. SAFETY is intended to start discussions.

Sarah and Godfrey responded to the award:   “We are deeply humbled that ACT and Shared Journeys have chosen to give us this recognition.  As citizen-artists, it is gratifying to receive this recognition at a time when the importance of the arts in American communities can be widely undervalued.”

Civic Ensemble is a non-profit theater company serving Ithaca and Tompkins County through offering plays, after-school and in-school education programs, and civic engagement programs with community members. The company works to bring audiences and performers of different races, classes, and experiences together in a public forum on the American experiment. Godfrey notes that “participation in the cultural life of the community is the birthright of every member of our community.”

At 7:30 pm, February 23, Civic Ensemble presents “HOME: A Living Newspaper” at the Kitchen Theater Company, 417 West State Street. (Pay What You Can online at or call 607-241-0195 to reserve a seat.)

Set in an unnamed Ithaca cafe, HOME addresses the issue of housing in Ithaca through the experience of a newcomer from South America. Sarah observes, “Very simply, HOME tells the story of a newcomer to Ithaca and her struggle to find safe, affordable housing. Her journey presents us with questions about how the current housing situation in Ithaca impacts real people as they struggle to find a small piece of the ‘good life’ so many come to Ithaca to find.”

HOME is timely. Nearly one-third of our permanent workforce, roughly 20,000 people (and growing), commutes into Tompkins County for work. We have roughly 42,000 units of housing in the County. We might need another 10,000 units to adequately relieve the pressure of rising local housing costs that challenge the ability of long-term working-poor residents, new hires and immigrants, alike, who try to find housing and live here.


ACT builds bridges of understanding and cooperation among multiple faith communities in Tompkins County. Over 45 years, ACT has initiated, spun off or provided ongoing support for programs that serve food security needs locally and globally, persons emerging from incarceration, families and persons with young children, community-wide celebrations of Thanksgiving, ongoing conversations about science and religion, faithful responses to violence and war, and secular and religious diversity.

Shared Journeys fosters positive, informal relationships that build community across differences in backgrounds and resources, so that we can feel at home with differences, live gracefully with inevitable conflicts and become allies in overcoming injustices. Our “Communities of Care” initiative builds relational skills that make it easier to experience mutuality and community within and across our families, peer-groups, neighborhoods, religious and secular organizations, political affiliations and workplaces.

Eric Clay is the co-founder of Shared Journeys.

February 9, 2015

Courage, Despite Oppression, Sustains Us

Tompkins Weekly 2-9-15

By The Rev. Olivia Armstrong

What is sustainability? This might appear elementary, however, I’m trying to set some of us free realizing sustainability depends on the Sun, Air, Water and Trees. Please don’t sneeze. However, there’s no universally agreed definition (which is good). Now, that I have your attention. I thank the Creator that Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Al Sharpton didn’t sneeze. (Both were stabbed close to the heart and if they would have sneezed they would have died.)

Allegedly, the concept of sustainable became common language during the World’s first “Earth Summit” in Rio 1992. However, my perspective on sustainability means a common thread of a legacy of a people who have been oppressed, abused, and misused and realizing that inner “gene” of courage to sustain themselves to live.

Wow! What a mouth full now, flowing with “Black History Month (February)” pulling out courage of ancestral sustainment (slavery, discrimination, prejudice and all other lethal isms, in America and now global), in keeping a race living and surviving. The proof is in the pudding; those with an ear, let them hear and do research. This month will be dedicated to Nubian (Black) people.

I would like to begin this column: Signs of Sustainability with a poem of Dr. Maya Angelou: “The Black Family Pledge” and then share personal testaments of youth, Anthony S. of New Roots School and Kyerria H., 11, from Endicott, NY.

Dr. Maya‘s ‘The Black Family Pledge‘: “Because we have forgotten our ancestors, our children on longer give us honor. Because we have lost the path our ancestors cleared kneeling in perilous undergrowth, our children cannot find their way. Because we have banished the God of our ancestors, our children cannot pray. Because the old ways of our ancestors have faded beyond our hearing, our children cannot hear us crying. Because we have abandoned our wisdom of mothering and fathering, our befuddled children give birth children they neither want nor understand. Because we have forgotten how to LOVE, the adversary is within our gates and holds us up to the mirror of the world shouting, “Regard the loveless”. Therefore, we pledge to bind ourselves to one another. To embrace our lowest. To keep company with our loneliest. To educate our illiterate. To feed our starving. To clothe our ragged. To do all good things, knowing that we are more than keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are our brothers and sisters. In honor of those who toiled and implored “(Sustainability)” God with golden tongues, and gratitude to the same God who brought us out of hopeless desolation, We make this pledge.”

I believe, our youth don’t have a listening community public voice and after hosting Youth Voices/Kids Radio on WRFI FM 88.1 and creating a Youth Poetry Corner and Youth Budding Artist in the Moonlighter Press, having such great response and outcry to be heard, these articles will be relating to youth and how they sustain themselves today with the horrors of youth challenges.

Anthony S, of New Roots School, wrote about a youth challenge he chose. “I have always struggled. However, my struggle is not broadcasted as other struggles in the world. It’s a struggle “ONLY” felt within…for those whom only it apply. A struggle that shouldn’t even be. It is the struggle of being a hybrid. I’m talking about my race. I am of many Nations and ancestors, some hated by one another but combined in my face. It is the history that continues to play out in our world, discrimination of color, culture and place. I stand here now a living “at testament” to everything that is wrong with the world in the mind of a race. No matter what color. I have struggled my entire life with my place in the color wheel. I seem to be on a complete other spectrum at times. However, growing up I knew nothing of race my mother was pale skinned and my father Black. In having a “Caucasian” mother and Black father. And me, I didn’t think I was Black , but I was aware what it really meant. I remember arguing at a young age with my friend and his father, about me being black. Only to be reassured by mother that I was right, and this where my confusion begun to be continued.”

Kyerria H, of Endicott, NY, shared a similar story as Anthony’s. After reading her first article, I felt there was something she wanted to say, but didn’t know how. I knew reading Anthony’s story about the challenges of being biracial would give her courage and boldness to write her story, realizing she is not alone. I told her to read what Anthony wrote. While she read, I stared at her face. It appeared lifeless. And while observing her read, I felt her identifying the pain and anger to the point where I started crying. she was expressionless, only taking a deep breath and passing me the tissues, upon my request.

I never experienced anyone’s pain, hurt and anger that way before. I am a professional healer (Reiki Master) and Social Worker. I’ve never observed anyone’s face in such great turmoil and pain without them saying a word. I felt like I was stuck in time and trapped and waiting for it to be over. Her reading that one page felt like the world stop spinning and I wanted it to start again. I felt she got stuck in the moment of time in pain and identification. She appeared speechless and breathless while reading.

It was very painful to watch an 11-year-old young girl to harbor and hold on to such deep-rooted pain. I wonder how many other children have experience the torture and teasing of being a biracial youth in school, among you’re peers. However, it encouraged her to write her own experience, which will be our next series “SCARES” What Sustains Us?

Olivia Armstrong is CEO of the Rainbow Healing Center of America in Jacksonville.