She Inspires Everyday People to Make Change in Their Communities

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Creating a better world will not come from a single solution. That is what Gloria Walton, the president and CEO of The Solutions Project, strives to help others understand every day. Walton’s national organization aims to help others transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy — wind, water, solar — through grant-making and amplifying the solutions of frontline communities in media.

The organization invests in and champions organizations led by Black, Indigenous, immigrant and other people of color who, according to Walton, “have been creating climate solutions from the ground up for decades — if not centuries.”

"All too often, we simply accept that the people we elect are leaders — as opposed to seeing ourselves as leaders, too."

Walton has experience with community building and has worked with the Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE). She’s supported ballot measures and policy campaigns that created equitable investment in green jobs, climate solutions, and economic development in Los Angeles and California. Today, she’s focusing on “resourcing innovation happening on the ground within climate justice organizations and their communities.”

CircleAround caught up with Walton to learn more about her background and work for The Solutions Project.

CA: What inspired you to become a community organizer?

GW: I decided to become a community organizer when I was in my early twenties, although that wasn’t “the plan.” As a Black woman who was born into poverty, becoming a lawyer or doctor or another lucrative profession to support my family was a no-brainer for me. I didn’t even know that being an organizer was a thing. When my college professor, Paul Von Blum, first asked me if I ever thought about being an organizer — apparently because of my strong political opinions in class — I responded, “You mean an event organizer?” I had thought community organizing was only from the civil rights era of the 1960s. He laughed and told me about the UCLA Labor Center’s Summer Internship program.

So I became an intern, and I’ll never forget this moment, sitting on a couch at a small house meeting in South Central LA, taking notes on butcher paper while Black and Latinx leaders from our community broke bread together and talked about power. The host made fried chicken, newcomers brought pound cake and salad, and they shared their stories, their anger about the conditions they were living in every day, and how racist policies have historically disinvested them in their own neighborhoods. But they also talked about how to build power, and to use their voice.

By the end of that meeting, I learned that decisions are being made every single day on my behalf and yours — with or without us — and that power dynamics are not coincidental. But what we can do is choose to be a part of it. I chose to be an agent of social change that day.

CA: How does The Solutions Project support BIPOC and women-led organizations?

GW: We intentionally strive to listen, learn, and center the people closest to the problems because they are also the most critical part of the solutions. We support their work by utilizing media and culture so that others can join our movement. We also fund their work, directing 95 percent of funding to BIPOC-led groups and 80 percent of funding toward women-led groups.

"Every story has a hero (or shero!). Seeing everyday people make change in their communities allows others to see the hero within themselves."

CA: Why is it important to empower people to take charge of their communities?

GW: Through my work, it has been incredibly exciting to see residents and local community members lean into their intrinsic power. All too often, we simply accept that the people we elect are leaders — as opposed to seeing ourselves as leaders, too. So to witness a moment when someone claims their leadership and owns their power, their voice, and their story — this moment is transformational.

It changes the perspective of people sitting in a room, it helps to pass a policy that protects their community or prevents a toxic site from being built in their neighborhood. These are moments that expand the very meaning of leadership and power — and who has the power to affect change.

CA: What are some of your career highlights?

GW: An individual exciting moment I’ll never forget was when I had the opportunity to go to The World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya — a convening originally created in response to the World Economic Forum that gathers world leaders and activists to raise awareness about the plight of those marginalized by corporate-driven economic and social policies. It was here that, for the first time, I got to meet activists from around the world.

From the U.S. to the Global South to Africa, everyone there was doing the work to actualize liberty, freedom, and justice. There were thousands of activists there, and it was so invigorating to be a part of global grassroots actions and join in on conversations with people from all over the globe, to share strategies we’ve employed, and lessons we’ve learned.

CA: What is next for The Solutions Project?

GW: Right now, I am focused on our grant-making work at The Solutions Project to fortify and invest in the work of Black, Indigenous, immigrant, and other people of color creating climate solutions from the ground up. Our work involves doing two things: moving money to the people most impacted and amplifying their work in the media to inspire and activate the masses.

Through grant-making, we put the money where the need is. We’ve seen the power of strengthening the capacity of local communities to solve climate change.

In addition to resources, we also know too well that our stories need to be told. We see media and storytelling as one of the most powerful ways to unite communities and turn hopelessness into action….Elevating those stories creates a ripple effect and a new center of gravity. After all, every story has a hero (or shero!). Seeing everyday people make change in their communities allows others to see the hero within themselves — and realize they can affect change, too.

CA: What are some takeaways from your experience that can help others ignite change?

GW: We can choose to be engaged and have a say — we can create ways to have a seat at the table, and be the decision-makers… We have the power to build movements and to change the world.

Another takeaway I would share is my ardent belief that climate justice is the answer to our problems today. This moment we’re in is acknowledging the damage that’s been done by the systems and structures we live under — and more importantly, calling for new structures in place of them. We have an opportunity to move away from the extractive, oppressive approach that our economy has created that reinforces structural inequities like racism, sexism, and income inequality — and build a new and just climate economy, for all of us.

The last thing I’ll share is that we need to care for ourselves on this journey. Victor Narro says, “As activists, our spaces for self-reflection and self-retreat become a critical part of our work for justice. Each of us needs a balance of solitude and service.” It took me a long time to come to a place in my life where I can own that taking a break or a vacation — or even just a self-care day — is not a privilege, but it is in fact essential to sustain myself for the longevity of our social justice movement.

Tags: Social Justice, Career, Career

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

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