There are countless stories of young people who are surprised by just how important the ECC would become to their lives. Perhaps one of the most notable of these vulnerable youth was Diamond Teague, who initially was not excited to even be involved with ECC, according to his mother, Florence Teague.
“We thought that Diamond was never going to like the work,” Florence recounts. “He even wrote in his journal that when he joined the ECC, that was going to be one of the worst days of his life.”
He quickly changed his mind. Seven months later, Diamond had become one of the most involved members of the Corps, inspiring countless others and teaching them about the importance of the environment. Bob Nixon’s own daughter attested that “when I was seven, Diamond Teague was my hero.”
With a bright future ahead of him, Diamond was headed to college on a scholarship earned entirely on the merits of his environmental work.
Diamond was shot on his doorstep not long after earning that scholarship. He inspired and influenced so many people that the city of D.C. built a 39,000-square-foot park in his memory. He is one of 26 Corps members to pass away before their time.
It is the importance of helping these young people — knowing how much they need it and how much worse it could be if they didn’t have mentors to guide them — that gives Brenda her drive and sense of mission. The stakes couldn’t be any clearer for her. She knows that by sharing stewardship of the natural world with Corps members, she isn’t just saving the environment, she’s saving lives.
And, that’s why Brenda herself got involved in conservation roughly 40 years ago. She firmly believes that getting involved in the environment is one of the best ways to anchor young people who have been beset with countless challenges faced while growing up in their environment. But, Brenda isn’t waiting for anyone to come to her.
ECC members canvassing in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast D.C., a high-priority area for American Forests’ Community ReLeaf outreach and tree planting initiatives
Recounting a meeting she had with a fellow conservationist, she says, “I asked [him] — because you know when you have these environmental meetings it’s always the same stakeholders who show up all the time — I asked him, well, when are you going to take this out to folks at the real grassroots level?” She asked this question even though she already knew the answer, and then told him “I’m going to make it my business to get to the vulnerable communities and meet them where they are.”
Everything about Brenda resonates with this declaration. The sport coat she wears befits a Managing Director, but the work boots on her feet tell you that she doesn’t mess around. Corps members will back this up, if you even need to ask. Nneka Anosike attests that “Everywhere I’ve gone so far, if I mention, ‘Do you know Brenda Richardson?’ they’ll be like ‘Yeah, I know Brenda, she did X, Y and Z.’ It just gives you an idea of how many people she’s touched.”
Her fellow Corps member Shawn Simons puts it more simply: “I’ve learned everything from her.”
Brenda is one of the few people born in her era to be connecting with today’s youth through Snapchat and Facebook.
“I’m still very old fashioned and a dinosaur,” Brenda admits again, but she thinks that social media is “a wonderful tool to educate folks on environmental issues.”
This willingness to approach and interact with people where they are at, regardless of how new, strange or uncomfortable it may be, is exactly what makes Brenda so good at what she does. She listens. Then she laughs. Then you find yourself laughing. And then you find yourself planting a tree.
Doyle Irvin contributes to American Forests’ magazine and Loose Leaf blog, and is passionate about protecting the environment and investing in the future of our planet.