Michael Chaney: Critical Collaborator

  • June 24, 2020
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  • Christina Vang

When Environmental Initiative is faced with narrowing down to a nominee for its Critical Collaborator Award, it doesn’t get easier, in fact, it gets harder each year as people continue to dedicate and commit their work to making Minnesota a better place. This year, we are honored to recognize the work of Michael Chaney as our Critical Collaborator. Though we won’t be able to recognize all the work he has done in his years of advocating and organizing for Minneapolis’s communities, we hope to highlight some of it. Michael leads and brings about collaboration through his ability to be visionary and an inspiration to others – we are excited to recognize his work this year.

Meet Michael Chaney, our Critical Collaborator

Presented by Dorsey and Whitney LLP

Michael Chaney has spent the last 40 years advocating and illuminating how to heal the nation and communities to overcome rampant disparities and wrongs of history because he believes that it is better when we’re all together. Michael is an activist, organizer, storyteller, poet, and founder of Project Sweetie Pie, an urban farm training program for youth in horticulture, entrepreneurship and marketing. As part of Project Sweetie Pie, a former Environmental Initiative project winner, Michael and his partners created the first urban farm legislation in the nation, signed by Governor Dayton in 2016, which provided funding for nonprofits and faith-based schools to educate youth across the state around horticulture. Michael is an idea generator and pollinator who believes in equal access and equity for all. Throughout his activism and as a member of the Green Zone Task Force, he has been involved with various projects and initiatives, such as the Upper Harbor Terminal (UHT) development project, where he brought a diverse set of interests to the table in support of a just and sustainable development, even when the pathway to collaboration wasn’t obvious. Through his organizing around the UHT, we can see that he really believes that everyone has a role to play in creating an environmentally just future and even seeks out people who he disagrees with to bring them to the table. The latest initiative Michael is working on is The Family of Trees, an existing solution, as he sees it, to the climate crisis and a way to humanize the environmental movement. For this initiative, he is collaborating with local nonprofits, faith-based community organizations, and environmental agencies in hopes of restoring the urban forest canopy that has been drastically reduced, by implementing goals of the City of Minneapolis’s 2020 Climate Action Plan and the Northside Green Zone. Michael believes that through collaboration, he will be able to germinate and cross-pollinate with partners and sees it as an “authentic transformation to get all hands-on deck to get everyone paddling the same direction.” With the success of this initiative, Michael’s intention is to expand The Family of Trees beyond Minneapolis.

The Work is Never Over

Throughout Michael’s work, he may have been faced with challenges, but that never stopped him from pushing forward. When we asked Michael about what he has learned over the years, he said, “Community organizing is not for wimps, you have to believe in your vision, in the people, that we can build a stronger democracy, and that it is an elusive butterfly where it is something we must always be vigilant of, or we might lose sight of the goal.” Michael remains clear on the fact that members of the community—and particularly the young people who represent our community’s future—should be making the decisions about what that future looks like. He’s a naturally gifted connector and believes deeply in the power of relationship to transform people and the world. If you’re looking for advice on how to make change for communities, Michael says, “We have to change, get beyond the primitive way that we deploy resources and the way we allow others to have a voice by engaging all voices to include everyone, to be part of the course line.” As part of his work, he continues to bring people together, particularly creating access for communities of color, to mobilize their constituents and become active members in the community. We are honored to have supported Michael on several projects and initiatives, and we hope to continue to learn and work with Michael, because as Michael says, “United we green, divided we fail.”

Learn More about Michael

Celebrating the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards

The wait is over – it’s finally time for the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards! We are excited to celebrate the 2020 Environmental Initiative Awards online with you. While this is the first time in the 26-year history that the Awards event will not convene in person, we remain committed to highlighting innovative, impactful and collaborative people and projects working in partnership at the nexus of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society.

Celebrate with Us