We hear a lot these days about giving back to your community. But you’re much more likely to see celebrities doing charitable work in developing nations than in the neighborhoods from whence they came.
This made it a welcome surprise to see Atlanta hip-hop/soul legend Cee Lo Green and his sister, Shedonna Alexander, having the groundbreaking ceremony for their new GreenHouse Foundation at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy in late August.
With KISS 104 DJ Art Terrell hosting and local luminaries such as Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Cee Lo’s Goodie Mob bandmates in attendance, The Voice star returned home to announce his new educational foundation. GreenHouse’s core mission is to make “green education” accessible to students in under-served urban school districts, inspiring them to become more responsible stewards of the environment and their communities.
SACA, where the artist born Thomas DeCarlo Callaway attended elementary school, was selected as the site of the foundation’s first project to emphasize its community approach. “It’s urgent that we bring attention to what strikes closest to our hearts,” Cee Lo insisted, “and green education is something that we’re passionate about. We encourage people to get involved, because our communities are under fire and we have to cultivate programs to create a better balance.” Expensive, but worth it.
Expensive, but worth it
The new program will consist of numerous elements emphasizing math and science, including an outdoor garden, greenhouse garden and a school farmers market that will help feed the homeless, elderly and others in need. Once the SACA project is up and running, the foundation plans to expand into other local schools, including West Manor Elementary, Beecher Hills Elementary and Imhotep Academy.
Asked why they chose environmental sustainability for their pet project, Alexander insists that it wasn’t just a clever play on Cee Lo’s adopted surname. “A lot of people think, ‘Cee Lo Green is going green!’ But it was actually about a need in our community. Our kids just don’t have the resources, and we wanted to be trailblazers in our community to introduce this initiative head-on. When our mother passed away,” she recalls, “I was 21 years old, and Cee Lo was 19. This community raised us as a village, so we just want to give back and sow good seeds and help raise the next generation of our community.”
Cee Lo explains that such initiatives are essential in this era of genetically modified foods, particularly in inner-city areas where fresh fruits and veggies can be hard to come by. “A better way of living and eating is expensive,” he says, “in the same way that better education is expensive. This is a more convenient and cost-effective way to get involved by literally growing your food and growing your community with your own hands. It should be a labor of love, as it is for us.”
But the Green Garden Education Program is only the first phase in their plans, which will eventually include a School Waste Diversion Initiative, Clean Atlanta Green Day, Community Gardens Program, Green Collar Career Development and Training, and a Green Career College Scholarship. Working together with the city of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability, local companies and private donors, Cee Lo and his sister eventually hope to develop the program nationally, encouraging kids across the country to plant the seeds that will lead to a better, brighter and more sustainable future.
“The role that they will play is to carry on our initiative,” Cee Lo says in his trademark son-of-a-preacher-man cadence. “It’s about them taking that initiative and that responsibility, because you’re never too young to pick up a cause. Kids can go to their mothers and fathers and say, ‘Hey, I like this new album: Would you buy it?’ What if they took green education to their parents as well? It all starts with these kids. It is very important that we bring about a balance. The Internet pulls no punches—it’s affecting our children in all the wrong ways—but it’s also a means of education. Education is equality and empowerment. We must educate and give children balance by our living, breathing, consistent, committed example. Not just for today, because it is fashionable or something to do, but because it is a lifestyle. It’s alive, and it’s organic. We’re just making it fun and fundamental.”