Planting Equity with New Voices

Written by New Voices Are Rising Program Associate Jada Delaney

Planting Equity with New VoicesJada (left), Jaden (middle), and Common Vision volunteer (right) plant trees in West Oakland.

After months of setbacks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Voices completed our West Oakland demonstration tree planting event in late January. With help from Rose Foundation’s Grassroots Fund grantee Common Vision and former grantee Growing Togetherwe recruited a team of 14 volunteers to plant ten oak, pistaches, and ironwood trees at our first planting site on 17th & Willow Streets. The socially distant, COVID-19 safe event was a complete success! And we want to give a big shout out to the East Bay Chapter of the California Native Plant Society for providing financial support for the tree planting.

Common Vision’s chief puppet interviewed youth at our tree planting
to find out why they care about planting more trees in their community.
Watch this video to find out what they said:
Find out why youth think planting more trees is important!
Common Vision’s resident reporter and helper Jamari (left) interviews Jada (right)
 and several other youth volunteers at the tree planting.

Planting trees is one way New Voices brings youth into our work for environmental equity, which involves introducing and educating Oakland students about the environmental justice issues we face in our communities. Our students understand why the trees they planted are important. Here’s how youth volunteer planter Jaden puts it, “Trees are important because they provide oxygen, and they can remove harmful gasses from the air. Trees improve our air quality.

Tree equity mapThis map of Oakland demonstrates a lack of tree equity. Orange represents a low tree equity score and green represents a high tree equity score. These scores indicate how well each municipality is bringing benefits of the urban tree canopy to communities of color, low-income residents, and other community members who are susceptible to extreme heat.
Map credit: American Forests

As with most plans in the last year, the pandemic shaped how we developed the tree planting event. With each new public health mandate, the planting date was pushed until we were comfortable creating a set of detailed protocols to ensure social distancing and health precautions for the well-being of all participants.

Temperature check at the tree planting
Jada takes Rose Founders Jill Ratner’s and Tim Little’s
temperatures before they start planting trees.

January’s demonstration planting was only the first step of a larger West Oakland Tree Mapping plan that I have been working on over the last year. This plan identifies strategic locations to plant over 100 trees around West Oakland to create a buffer, which will utilize trees and vegetation to reduce heat, absorb pollutants like particulate matter, and filter the air. This project grows out of a community driven plan which New Voices students have helped develop to improve West Oakland’s air quality and put forth the resources needed to address air inequities. (To learn more about New Voices‘ work with West Oakland’s AB617 planning, click here). With the help of community partners, we have chosen the areas to plant our tree buffers shown in the map below:

Map of West Oakland Tree Planting

The process of going from preliminary notes and proposals to physical planting has been hard, but rewarding. The first step was to garner community support and buy-in. So, our students presented our proposal to the public for feedback at multiple community meetings. And with help from our friends at the Oakland Education Association’s Environmental Justice Caucus, we were able to involve even more Oakland Unified School District students. People have been very excited to see this project through, and it comes as the City of Oakland is in the process of developing a citywide urban forestry plan to address the dire need for more trees throughout Oakland. So, our students’ work is influencing City policy and the resilience of Oakland for years to come!

Our tree planting kick-off in January was only the beginning. I am excited to take our learnings from the event to help us with our future plantings, so we can bring more than 100 trees to the West Oakland neighborhood.

If you want to get involved in the next planting, please email me at jdelaney@rosefdn.org.

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