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Interview: Rodney Stotts, Earth Conservation Corps

Washington, D.C. has been my home for many years. It is where my foundation is headquartered, where my family resides. It is also home to members of the Earth Conservation Corps, a service organization that teaches at-risk teenagers and young adults from the poorest, most violent neighborhoods to clean up their local Anacostia River – and their lives.

Corps members come to intimately understand through their ten months of service, environmental education, and job skills training that saving the planet isn’t just about furthering some liberal “environmentalist” agenda. It isn’t even exclusively about saving animal species, such as the native bald eagle, from extinction. It’s about quality of life for every living, breathing being around – including people. It’s about making home a sweeter home. 

When it rains, D.C.’s sewer system overflows into the Anacostia, and as a result two billion gallons of raw sewage get dumped into the river each year. “This is the biggest toilet in the world,” says Earth Conservation Corps member Marco.

I asked the youth how working to restore the river is connected to people’s lives. Patrick answered, “If you don’t take care of your environment, it’s just filthy. You don’t care anymore about the place you live. You don’t have any respect for it. So you stop taking care of yourself, too. You treat yourself like trash.” He shaked his short, spiky dreads. “If people have a cleaner place to live, they care more about themselves. They want to make changes to themselves.”

Patrick spoke from experience. With his movie star looks and eloquent way of speaking, he has the potential to make it big. But first he had to choose to change his ways. “I was lucky. I could have died. I got shot here,” he pulled up his shirt to reveal a round scar just a few inches from his spine. “That's when I knew I had to do something different. I feel like giving back to the community because I took so much from it. Being an environmentalist means caring about your community.”

Rodney was a lanky 38 year-old when we spoke with him and proud father of twelve. He has worked for the EEC since its inception. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me–besides kids. I used to be the problem. Now I’m part of the solution. That feels so much better. My kids are some of the biggest environmental activists you can find!”