A longtime organizer and environmental activist, Keith is a Program Director at Recycle & Reinvest and also manages the curated online magazine RecycleVille. Recently as a Neighborhood Planting Captain, Keith activated his passions and neighborhood connections to spread the word about free tree sign-ups and encourage neighbors to get involved.
Q: How long have you lived in Bordeaux? How would you describe the neighborhood?
A: I’m not a Nashville native, but I’ve been in my neighborhood for 30 years. We call it Downtown Bordeaux, or Resha Heights officially. It’s a pretty small subarea of Bordeaux, because it’s not actually that many homes, but ever since I’ve been here I’ve been working to bring the neighborhood together. We have a neighborhood association, and we also work closely with the Haynes Trinity Neighborhood Coalition, which includes other neighborhoods within the Bordeaux community.
There’s a lot of elderly people who live here, but the area is also changing and there have always been younger folks too. Early on, my daughter got involved and helped get the neighborhood together, and that’s something I’m passionate about: bringing in younger people, so that it’s not always just 60+ in neighborhood meetings. That’s always been one of my goals, is to make sure everyone is represented. It’s their neighborhood too and we have to show them that they can make a difference if they get involved.
I’ve jokingly said I’m the “mayor” of downtown Bordeaux because of all this organizing – really just as a joke to myself because I’m always in all of these meetings.
Q: You were a Neighborhood Planting Captain last season. What was the process like for you and how did neighbors respond?
A: I took a systematic approach for sign-ups. First I drove through the neighborhood and found the yards that looked like they could use more trees, and I would drop off a flyer. Even better when there was someone in the yard and I could talk to them about the opportunity! I had these conversations with folks I didn’t know yet, and I was also sharing it with the neighbors I already know, and they would sign up for trees themselves. But then, these people would also talk to the neighbors they knew, and it just grew. The event we had at the park and posting the flyer in areas around the neighborhood also helped. Once people seemed to understand the opportunity, they would get excited and then share with others nearby.
I emphasized all the things trees provide for us, which can be easily taken for granted. Our exhale, our carbon dioxide, is the trees’ inhale, and then they give us clean oxygen of course, and that makes a big difference in overall air quality. Trees make a big difference in respiratory health. That’s not something asphalt can do! We also have a lot of mature trees and they are not all healthy, and they are starting to come down more frequently where we have storms, so I talked to people about why they should replant when they lose a tree – that it’s important to preserve our neighborhood.
It’s easy to take trees for granted and forget all the things they do. We have to coexist! I’m sitting here and all of these wonderful things about trees are coming to me so easily, just thinking about them and looking at them out my window. It was a rewarding experience to share this with others and talk to people about the importance of trees. You don’t always get to see the results of what you do.
Keith, far right, with other Bordeaux neighborhood leaders during a tree sign-up drive.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to be involved in your community?
It’s about quality of life. It’s a lot easier to sit back and watch from the sidelines and then complain about change. But where were you? I really believe in the power of numbers, so if I’m engaged and care about something and I’m the only one on my street, but then if I can connect with someone the next street over who cares about the same thing, and another person around the corner, well, now we have a group. You’re not going to necessarily see change overnight, but you will if you stick to it. It’s like if you board a plane, you can’t just get off anytime; you have to stay on, wait for the ride, and then once you land you still have to wait for the light to come on, before you can arrive at your final destination.
In my neighborhood, we are about helping people stay here and stay in their homes. We want to preserve the homes, as well preserving and protecting the green space and the trees. This area where I live is considered disadvantaged or neglected, and that’s why we really need to celebrate the wins and stay in it for the long haul. If you aren’t the one to show up or speak out… who will?
Neighborhood Planting Captains recruit their neighbors for trees over the summer, and then the trees are delivered later in the fall or winter. Our first cohort of 24 captains for the next season is all ready to go! We will work with one more cohort over the next season, with a training at the end of July/early August, so now is the time to apply. Questions? Reach out to the friendly team at firstname.lastname@example.org.