This is a picture of the housing projects where we lived, Ida B. Wells Homes. We stayed on the second floor in a small box apartment. This was during a time in the mid 80s when crack, gang violence, mass incarceration, and mass unemployment absolutely decimated urban communities. Beyond the surface, at a very young age, I learned how to survive. I learned how to become resilient. These conditions, however, were not suitable for a child. And so I remember the day my biological parents lost their custodial rights. At age 4, I became a ward of the state.
Grandma and Grandpa were a source of tremendous encouragement. Loved them dearly and enjoyed every moment we spent together. I dedicate my life’s work to the example they set: “Everyday you have a choice to give thanks. Show gratitude. And everyday you have a choice to give back.” – Charles W. Johnson, Sr.
I’m fortunate my grandparents held a deep appreciation for books, art, and photography. This set is from a visit to their home around the time of my birthday in 1987. It did not take long for them to build within me an interest in drawing, music (the oldies, lol), and current affairs. We often hosted our own fireside chats.
Sixth Ward Speech Contest
My journey has been the byproduct of an intentional village. Despite moving around from place to place, my interest in the world around me grew stronger with time. The CITIZEN Sixth Ward Speech Contest was a memorable opportunity to practice lessons learned. It was a second place finish but it was the start of something special. Many years later while in high school I would become the citywide youth mayor.
Power of Civic Engagement
Most of the youth I knew in foster care and in group homes did not ‘make it out’ successfully; they did not graduate high school nor go to college. By God’s grace I did both. Less than 3% of foster youth graduate college. And so 9th grade was a seminal year in that I began to develop into a responsible young man. I began to see myself as someone who could help grow the things around me. Through teamwork.
I snapped these in New Orleans a few months after Katrina. I had taken a semester off from Georgetown to work full-time. Working to rebuild the city was a life changing experience. As the youngest African American male in my disaster relief unit I knew that the first responder training I received needed to reach new allies.
Team Happy Foundation has one mission: to inspire the next generation of first responders and wetland scientists. We started, in 2005 as Blanket New Orleans, Inc., by providing blankets, supplies, and thousands of college volunteers to returning residents throughout New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Today, our award-winning model has supported recovery efforts in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the continental U.S. We believe the imagination of young people can transform policy benchmarks focused on equity, resilience, and sustainability.
Culture & Sustainability
For nearly 14 years, my team has worked toward building cultural and environmental resilience through a social equity framework. Sustainability, as both a practice and industry, can be leveraged to create new pathways for economic inclusion and improved civic engagement. This is one way we can create a more justice-centered society.
Leadership in Democracy
Prioritizing equity, sustainability, and the preservation of culture while engaging local and federal policy makers.
Fighting for Renewable Energy
“During the next 50 years, Louisiana is projected to lose more land and wetlands along its coast than it can rebuild, even if restoration efforts are completed as currently planned. With less wetland buffer, the state’s coastal regions face increased storm surge and flood risk that will impact families and communities in ways large and small, acute and chronic,” the Office of Community Development. Pollution accelerates erosion. We’re advancing strategic investments in renewable energy generation: wind, solar, and energy efficiency.
Defending our Coast
Louisiana loses 100 yards of land every 100 minutes. Coastal land loss is not a temporary crisis. And so I often think about everything my home represents. Conservation requires us to support the next generation. The young people who will inherit and lead this land need us to act boldly right now. Good trouble.