Note: This article is part of OL's green series, published throughout the week.

Communitree is on a mission to grow healthy communities. Founded in the fall of 2008 and publicly launched in the spring of 2009, the organization has planted their share of impressive projects in less than a year that spring from their dedication to social and environmental justice through the arts and service learning.

Founders Aaron Ableman, Ashel Eldrige, Alli Chagi-Starr, Jahan Khalighi, Travis Porter De Leon (Community Roots), Anita Miralle (Healthy Hoodz), and Nikila Badua (Hamsa Lila) are all rooted in the arts with a strong focus on environmental awareness. And at this point, Communitree’s network counts dozens of artists, activists, community leaders and organizations as its branches, including: Cicily Sweed of ASE Studios, Luisah Teish, acclaimed author and educator, and Hollis Pierce of Advanced Strategies for Professional Development, Robin Tala, founder of the Cyphertown hip hop collective, Rashida Clending, AKA Audio Angel of the worldwide dance music community.

Working closely with organizations like Art in Action and Youth for Environmental Sanity, Communitree has spent 2009 creating events and building connections. Ableman said the main obstacle has been building trust in the community and breaking through the racial and political socio-economic divisions that make transformation and progress tough in both Oakland as a city and the environmental movement overall.

In signature Communitree style, they brought music and arts with a message to the Bay, partnering with the SF Green Fest for “Green Service Week” to create ecological service days across the Bay Area communities, then unveiling a “Bamboo Bicycle” with Richmond Spokes.

During the festival they energized the Bay Area after-party scene, throwing a Pulse of the Green party that featured Dead Prez and Speech from Arrested Development along with a host of local acts.

And this was on the heels of another event at the Brower Center with Women's Earth Alliance, showcasing food justice organizations, Joanna Macy, Youssou Sidibe, ceremonial music from Mexico, and hip-hop storytelling to celebrate local to global agriculture.

Using innovative arts to rock an environmental justice message and benefit local green education? This is the Communitree way.

“There’s a reason we learn the alphabet through song, that we experience a socialization through theatre. Einstein called himself an artist, Van Jones calls himself an artist…
It’s the arts that have catalyzed change throughout history. We need the arts & mythology for creative insight and collective imagination just as we need science, mechanics, and ecology to apply these stories into the way society works.” says Ableman.

I sat down with Ableman, one of the founders, to learn more about the roots and the future of an organization that has gone from seed to sprout both quickly and successfully.

Communitree began simply enough- with the seed of collaboration between community activists. What became the group’s first project, a 4 day Communitree Festival in February, grew out of like-minded organizers of different events deciding to work together, weaving together a diverse fabric of service projects and events at Ashkenaz and La Pena.

“It soon became a question of, ‘Why don’t we tag those together and call it a festival?’” says Abelman.

They did, and the connections and opportunities blossomed. The festival eventually included the building of a community garden, water quality workshops, story-telling performances in senior homes, tree plantings, and eco-edutainment
presentations in Richmond schools.

Communutree Time-Lapsed Sacred Mandala from Gregg Marks on Vimeo.

In a larger, deeper sense, “it was the spirit of the community that really brought [Communitree] into existence,” says Ableman. “Communitree seeded out of a collective call for local resilience with a global awareness behind it. In many ways it was a courageous step for the founders, bringing together politically and racially divided communities under a unified tapestry of climate, grounded in this collective project. A lot of the programs are coming out of our personal insights and experiences.”

Communitree’s immediate plans include more events centered around music, creating a curriculum to use for more programs, and creating an infrastructure. Having taken root and begun to grow, they need what any organization needs to keep doing good work- grants, office space and interns.

But Ableman emphasizes that “it is important to move forward without the ‘lack of’ mentality that limits work and effectiveness.” Meaning, the work needs to be done, and Communitree is here to make it happen. To do this he says the key is to stay confident in the vision and appeal to peoples’ dreams.

Whatever form they take, the programs and services Communitree offers are pragmatic ways for people to engage in environmental and ecological justice, bettering community through engagement, celebration, and the arts.

“We are telling a new story, singing a new song, dreaming a new dream, and seeding a new world,” writes Communitree on their website. Indeed- and they bring together the powerful voices of the Bay Area to tell it, sing it, dream it and seed it.

For more about Communitree and their events, visit: http://www.communitree.net

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