Mike Harley

Mike Harley headshotI first came to the organization when it was just two years old, and I joined as an intern and the organization’s first communications staff person. I had come to Minnesota from working in an environmental justice organization in the poorest counties in Eastern Kentucky, and although I believed deeply in that work, I had come to realize that we were almost entirely in relationship with people who already agreed with us. No hearts and minds were being changed by working with a small group of people who mostly felt and thought in the same ways.

When I came to Minnesota, I hoped to find an opportunity to work at the interface of people who did not start off all believing the same things about our environment, and who brought differing perspective, interests and even worldview to the work. I found what was then the Minnesota Environmental Initiative as a fledgling organization, and soon came to see that my personal values were highly aligned with the core identity of the organization. I believed in helping people find and strengthen their natural connections to each other and to the living world. I believed that by working together across difference we can heal a world of hurt and division. I believed that there are better ways for us to live together on the face of this planet and that if we can open ourselves to change, both people and planet can flourish. I have continued to believe all of these things over the years, and I have stayed at EI for nearly a quarter century because I recognize what a gift it is to work in an organization that is so closely aligned with my core values, my worldview and my hopes for humanity and our Earth.

There are two great influences that pointed me in the direction of my life’s work. The first was growing up fishing on the Hudson River with my maternal grandfather. That was in the mid-70s and the river was heavily polluted with PCBs, and while it was not deemed safe to eat American eel and blue crab from the river, we did so anyway. My Sicilian grandfather taught me about my complex relationship to water and to a world that both sustains life and that can poison it because of how we have treated our environment. My relationship to him and to the Hudson lie at the heart of my commitment to work for a healthy environment and for the wellbeing of all people who depend on nature for their sustenance (which is all people). Because of the powerful formative affect it had on my life, I don’t regret eating from the river in that time, although I may someday suffer the health affects of having done it. The second great influence is my faith and my understanding of Catholic Social Teaching. My parents are secular Franciscans and I have long felt a deep connection for St. Francis of Assisi, both for his love of all life – human and animal life alike, but especially the poor and most vulnerable among us – and for his particular approach to reforming a corrupted church. He embraced transformation, he lived his values, he built a community of coworkers around him and he hoped to change systems through the power of his own, personal transformation, and through the example that he set by living his values.

I love the experience of being in deep relationship with people from widely differing walks of life and who hold what may feel like opposing viewpoints and interests. I love moving from one conversation where I am working closely with business people to the next where I am with community organizers. I love holding together relationships that our divided world tells us cannot be held together. I love making those connections for people and for helping catalyze relationships across wide differences. In the past few years, the fullest and most joyous expression of that has been holding relationships across differences in power, perspective and worldview, such that I can help people connect with each other across those kinds of differences.

Jacques Cousteau was one of my childhood inspirations, drawing me toward a life of knowing, loving and protecting the living world. I have a vivid memory of him calling upon all humans to change our relationship to nature and to each other with the exhortation to “love all life.” Those words have been a guiding light for me ever since.

I am grateful for the opportunity to help make this organization a force for positive change in our world. Now I am inspired by the possibility of remaking the organization as a force for equity and racial justice. Most of all, I hope to be able to bring healing to the separation and division that plagues our world, and to build the capacity of others to do healing work far beyond my reach.

Mike Harley
Email Mike
612-334-3388 ext. 8115

Blogs
Will this be the moment?
The Differences in Our Work