I had the opportunity to meet this month’s first “Millennial on a Mission” at a networking event during CBC week. As we laughed and chatted over fellowship and yummy food after the event, I became intrigued by his passion for environmental advocacy, and his extensive experience in grassroots organizing and political advocacy. He has uniquely defined himself as the “Champion Diversifying Green“, making certain that his generation is well informed on how they can contribute to the preservation of our ever-changing environment.
I’d like for you to meet Dorien Paul Blythers.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Dorien and his family moved around the country every two years following his step-dad’s career in corporate America until I reached college. Seven states and eight public schools later, he’s proud to call Washington, D.C. home. “My family is originally from a place called Chulahoma, Mississippi,” Dorien says. “And yes, it looks and smells exactly like it sounds. Dirt roads, rolling pastures, and a horse that I ride named Black Mamba.” His great-grandparents ran a share cropping operation on our family land and were at the center of their rural community. Searching for his own sense of community, he found “home” in Howard University’s class of 2011 where he studied political science and community development. Elected as student body president of College of Arts and Sciences and serving in the university chapel, Dorien had a platform to serve others as many of his ancestors did.
CC: When did you first discover your passion for environmental advocacy, and how did you begin to take the risk in standing out among your peers? Why do you think it is important for our generation to really embrace what it means to “go green“, and what can we begin to do to incite change?
DPB: I discovered my passion for environmental advocacy at an early age. While many of my peers have viewed me as an accessible expert in “going green,” I understand that this movement isn’t new for people of color, although popular narratives would lead you to believe otherwise. As millennials we are at a unique window of opportunity where environmentalism has taken the main stage and the spotlight is on us. Whether you’re interested in recycling, energy savings, conservation or mainstream issues like climate change or Arctic sea level rise, I believe this is our generation’s opportunity to take the lead on what the future our our nation and world look like. Sustainability is all about being able to “maintain,” socially, economically, and environmentally. What can you do incite change in a time of catastrophic natural events caused by global warming like Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti? If I had the answer I’d be a lot richer than I am today, but what I do know is that this broad field is growing faster and more relevant everyday that the earth’s temperature rises and a species dies off. Let’s be the generation that’s engaged, well-read, proactive, and cognizant of our impact on it all. Let’s impact it, before it drastically impacts us.
CC: With your wealth of experience in advocacy,what would you say has been the most challenging transition for you? How have your past experiences contributed to your current role, and who are some of your role models that you admire both professionally and personally?
DPB: Spearheading President Obama’s re-election efforts in the coastal port-community of Riviera Beach, FL was the most challenging professional transition for me. While organizing and advocacy skills are transferable, I learned some major lessons in self-care and personal sustainability. For those of us who are cause-driven and passionate about our work it’s important to remember that movement can’t use us if we’re not first taking care of ourselves. Everything that I’ve done in the past has contributed to what I’m doing today, which essentially is connecting with people to solve some of the most pressing issues we’re facing as a society. I’ve learned how to connect people (by meeting them where they are) with the issues that I’ve passionately sought to work on behalf on; but not just that I’ve learned how to make people understand the “why” behind it all. Professionally I’ve looked up to the likes of fellow organizers like President Barack Obama, Van Jones, and even artists like James Baldwin who said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” I owe much of my recent success to my twin brother Damien, whom throughout my adolescence gave me the opportunity to practice the power of debate, persuasion, and ultimately appreciation of the opposition’s understanding.
Dorien believes that The Rockefellers, Carnegies and Vanderbilts of our time are now 20-somethings trying to ‘figure it out.’ To him, a “Millennial on a Mission” is someone that’s determined and driven by fresh ideas; telling their story and defining the future on their own terms. “Perhaps it’s the young woman with a start-up peddling her new company when not working her 9-5,” he says. “Or the soon to be PhD putting the final touches on a dissertation that will change the way we think about educating future generations.” His advice to his millennial peers? “Embrace the uniqueness that is within you, because nobody can do it as well as you can.”