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  • Siria Contreras

2020: A Future Worth Fighting For...



photo by Markus Spiske


Looking back at 2019, it is almost hard to think of it as one year as so much happened.

Of course, no journey is without ups and downs, detours, and road blocks. It is an understatement to say that as a country and individually, we all in one way or another faced challenges in the past year.


As I thought back to 2019 in late December and ahead to 2020, I recalled all of the amazing individuals and organizations that we met or got to know better who are doing so many great things in the world in spite of the challenges that they themselves might be facing. I’m lucky enough that both in my personal and professional life, I get to come across so many that are working so hard to make this world a better and sustainable place.


In this first post of 2020, I decided to showcase a few of these individuals, organizations, and initiatives doing things in different sectors that we met in 2019 (I omitted anyone that is directly on our Consciously Studio or Nourish Foundation teams), just in case they weren’t already on your radars.


This post easily could’ve been only about the Gen Z doers that I have met this past year, but I decided to save those for a later time and focus on eight of those from my various circles who made an impact not only on me, but also on the world-at-large.


1.) LGBTQ+ / RELIGION:

Grace Baldridge (“State of Grace”) - I was first introduced to Grace Baldridge earlier this year by a mutual friend when we ran into her in their neighborhood and recently caught up with her and her partner some more at that friend’s birthday party. Grace has been exploring subjects around religion, LGBTQ+, abortion, conversion therapy and more via her Refinery 29 digital series, “State of Grace”. After first watching an episode, which focused on Sex Education in Alabama and one on Gay Conversion Therapy in Atlanta, I was most impressed by the ease in which she navigated and facilitated the conversations around what can be considered “sensitive subjects”. I also appreciated that she always attempts to include both sides of the conversation. One of the most crucial things that is needed in this modern-day are good old fashioned conversations. Healthy debates and empathetic dialogue can co-exist and Grace shows us some healthy examples of what this can look like and for that I applaud her. You can watch “State of Grace” here.


2.) EDUCATION / STEAM/STEM

Sharon McCubbin - One of the things that I especially noticed about 2019 was that I seemed to meet the most extraordinary people, by pure happenstance. I had the privilege of meeting Sharon McCubbin on a flight back from Austin last spring. After she and her husband were settled into the seat next to me, she told me that she had spotted me in the boarding lobby and was curious about who that “striking, well-put-together” woman was--apparently it was me, making it even more random that we would end up sitting right next to each other. Anyhow, Sharon and I became fast-friends. She is a long-time educator who also happened to be the mother of our City of Los Angeles’ Chief Technology Officer. Sharon is one of the only educators in the U.S. with multiple national board certifications in language and literacy and has been a real pioneer in the field of education. She and her husband with other parents had opened up their own Charter School in Orange County, decades ago, she is a huge proponent of STEAM teaching approaches and curriculum, being a co-founder of the Irvine Elementary Math Network (IEMN). Sharon is also in high demand for her expertise and works closely with the Chan Zuckerberg Institute. She is also an active member of the Association Montessori International (AMI) and with the AMI Educateurs sans Frontieres (EsF), an organization devoted to social reform to benefit children and families on a global basis. By the time our plane touched down in L.A. we had talked about everything from the current political climate, our climate crisis, alternative education models, films, books, and so much more. I always look forward to our conversations and hearing all about what she is up to.

3.) ELECTION 2020 / VOTER ENGAGEMENT

Jason Berlin (Field Team 6) - To put it mildly, Jason Berlin is a man who knows how to get things done. So it only makes sense that Jason was put on my radar by one of my favorite people in L.A., my friend Rebecca Balin another powerhouse with a history of making things happen. Rebecca is our current City of Los Angeles Fire Commissioner and also leads Swing Left Los Feliz, it was while I was at her home and I was talking to her and her husband, another one of my uber allies, David Kadosh, about our upcoming Gen Z Vote initiative.


She asked me if I knew Jason and when I replied that I didn’t, she wasted no time in putting us in her car and the next thing I knew I found myself in the middle of a fundraiser organized by Jason and his team of folks like the equally dynamic Sarah Jakle for their organization Field Team 6. If you know Rebecca, this is what she does--gets things done. With this super-connector by my side, I’d been at the party all but five minutes before I was introduced to Jason and each of the key people involved in his organization. My friends often joke that I’m likely one of the only people that attire-wise can go from a casual brunch to a board meeting to a formal event in whatever outfit I am wearing. I always tell people not to ever base what they will wear based off of what I am wearing as I will likely 90% of the time be in a dress.


Jason is a former longtime television writer and MTV producer, who like me decided that he needed to lend his talents to some of what was going on in the world, shifting his focus to this election cycle. His organization primarily focuses on registering voters for the democratic party, but also on the big issues. In the short time that I’ve known him he has grown his team of supporters and volunteers exponentially and Field Team 6 now has a presence across the country in key cities. There are other organizations doing similar work, all great and necessary, but there is something inspiring about the passion and heart that Jason is pouring into this mission that makes him someone you not only cheer him on, but also help him in whatever way you can.


4.) DATA / POLITICAL ANALYTICS

Jessica Tarlov - Jessie and I met at a conference where her team at Bustle Media had led us through a thought-provoking exercise. We connected later in the day, meeting back up to support the ladies of the World Wrestling Federation for their panel and quickly bonded agreeing to collaborate soon. A former Democratic strategist, who now acts as VP of Research and Consumer Insights for Bustle, you may also know Jessie from her work as a contributor and political advisor (often on-camera) for Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network Data is so key in everything from Marketing to Sales to Product/Film/Show Launches, but even more crucial to 2020 and all of the issues that we are tackling. To put it simply we cannot have enough Jessies in my life at this moment in time.


5.) MUSIC / DIVERSITY & INCLUSION:

House of Blues Music Forward Foundation - I will admit that when I first came across the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation and learned that it was in its 26th year, I was surprised that it had never really been on my radar, especially with my work via our Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls Los Angeles. I had heard of them in the past having frequented the House of Blues Hollywood Foundation Room years ago as if you dined there, you were able to donate towards the org. However, it wasn’t until recently that I really became aware of all of the great work that they do. Their big focus is on creating more inclusivity within the music industry as well as empowering the new generations entering the workforce who are seeking careers within the music industry, both on and off-stage. They hold programming on a regular basis across the U.S. and especially in their key cities of Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and New Orleans.They are also behind the Blues SchoolHouse initiative that preserves and showcases the history of the blues for today’s generations via events and education. A lot of great things are in the works for this organization in 2020 and beyond. I actually loved their mission so much that I agreed to help them lead some of these marketing and original content initiatives as of late last year.

6.) SELF-CARE/TECHNOLOGY

Yael Swerdlow (Maestro Games) - Yael is an extraordinary human with whom I quickly bonded over her passion for photography, music, and helping her fellow humans in ways that help them heal or offer them protection, she is the Founder and CEO of Maestro Games, a social purpose corporation working with Universities and Healthcare Providers to develop health and wellness game products. Yael primarily leverages virtual reality methods to help develop treatments that integrate music and relaxing landscapes to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), primarily for Veterans and medical professionals. While we are all familiar with and quick to recognize the effects of PTSD when it comes to military personnel and veterans or victims of abuse, we don’t think of the PTSD that those in the medical fields are subject to, especially those who work in emergency rooms--everyone from the paramedics to the nursing staff to the surgeons, etc.


One other area that I think could benefit from this technology is one that sadly now has an even larger number of folks impacted (I will share that as I was typing this, I just had the oddest sense of deja vu) are the victims of shootings and hate crimes. Scenarios that have become all too common in recent years, between the Parkland shooting and every other mass shooting that has happened before or after, including the Paris shooting that was so cold-blooded, merciless, and methodical that our friends, Eagles of Death Metal and their fans that were present can never be expected to be the same as they were pre-event.

My hopes are that eventually this technology can continue to be used for good and also for those that may not be the folks with the easiest of access to this technology, i.e. the children of war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen, etc.


7.) CLIMATE CRISIS / RENEWABLE RESOURCES:

Ronnie Swire Siegel (Carry the Earth) - I officially met landscape architect and artist Ronnie Swire Siegel when I was researching organizations to potentially partner with around environmental issues/climate crisis. I came across “Carry the Earth” and fell in love with her concept which tied taking action in this space paired with art. We ended up meeting around finding the best way to collaborate. At that time, I also learned about some of the initiatives that she and her husband, a NASA engineer, had been working on for years--many of which aligned with my own way of thinking. One other area of focus of Ronnie’s that endeared her even further to me was her work around problems faced by children in urban areas, in particular their lack of access to natural parks and playspaces. Aside from her work with Carry the Earth, Ronnie also designs and builds natural outdoor playgrounds for low-income communities. The reason why that resonated with me so much, was due to an article that I had read a few years ago that has stuck with me, and although meant to be a feel good piece it had the opposite effect on me, as it talked about a charity that was building underground playgrounds for the children in Syria so that they would have somewhere safe to play while the devastation of war played out above ground. The thought of these children having to play in these tunnels with no sunlight broke my heart instead of making me smile.

After a meeting of the minds via phone, and a mutual desire to meet in person to discuss next steps further, Ronnie had me at “want to meet at Descanso Gardens”? As someone who loves nature but is usually stuck in conference rooms most days in back-to-back meetings, I welcomed the opportunity to make it back to one of my favorite places in L.A. Needless to say, Ronnie is a great individual, who I hope to support and collaborate with for a long time to come. Learn more at: https://carrytheearth.com/


8) The UC President’s Global Climate Leadership Council

Late last spring, I was invited to attend the President’s Global Climate Leadership Council Gathering at UC Irvine to discuss among other things, an ongoing Carbon Neutrality Initiative. After viewing the invitation list and seeing that it was a very select group of distinguished and accomplished leaders within the UC faculty system which included the top Professors and Executive teams around Energy and Sustainability, Earth Science, Environmental Science, Transportation, Strategic Energy Initiatives I actually wondered why I had been invited as, I assure you that I am not being modest but actually completely honest when I say that I am nowhere near as accomplished as all of the other invitees . However, I welcomed the opportunity to learn further about this council’s core initiatives and it really was great to be in the company of folks like Chief Sustainability Officer John Elliott and Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan. I wish I could share the various topics on the agenda, however unfortunately I cannot at this moment.


What I can share is that the only other participants who were not directly affiliated with the President’s Global Climate Leadership Council were the Chief Energy Officer of Kaiser Permanente and the Director of Environmental Policy at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Both have been piloting some big green initiatives that actually will help to move the needle over time. I have to say that I am actually extremely impressed with the efforts that Kaiser Permanente is making when it comes to “climate action. What I really came to respect about the Kaiser Permanente pledges and actions is how open they are to being held accountable in keeping their word in regards to green and renewable initiatives.


Suffice to say that everyone in attendance was accomplished in their own right and it gave me some relief to know that these super-intelligent and capable individuals are on the side of Climate Crisis resolution. However, it was Professor Ramanathan who I wished we could clone into a super-army to help us continue to battle this current epidemic. I later discovered that Professor Ramanathan, who currently serves as the Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, has made many invaluable and game-changing contributions to our world, some of these include:


  • Ramanathan “discovered the greenhouse effect of CFCs in 1975 and showed that a ton each of CFC-11 and CFC-12 has more global warming effect than 10000 tons of CO2. This discovery established the now accepted fact that non-CO2 gases are a major contributor to planet warming and also enabled the Montreal protocol to become the first successful climate mitigation policy. For this work, he was awarded the Tyler Prize by Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland in 2009.

  • In 1980, Ramanathan with a partner, was the first to make a statistical prediction that global warming will be detected above the background noise by 2000, a prediction which was verified by the IPCC-UN experts in 2001.

  • He led a NASA study with its climate satellite to show that clouds had a net cooling effect on the planet and quantified the radiation interactions with water vapor and its amplification of the CO2warming. He also led international field campaigns, developed unmanned aircraft platforms for tracking brown clouds pollution worldwide.

  • His work has led to numerous policies including the formation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition by the United Nations.

  • He founded, designed, and leads Project Surya along with daughters Nithya Ramanathan and Tara Ramanathan; an extended effort to characterize and mitigate climate and health impacts of cooking with solid biomass as a way to protect the bottom three billion from climate change. He is now leading a University of California climate solutions effort which has launched a course on climate solutions that is expected to reach a million students or more.

  • He was honored as the science advisor to Pope Francis’ holy see delegation to the historic 2015 Paris climate summit and in addition advised former California Governor Jerry Brown.

  • He was named the UN Climate Champion in 2013; has been elected to the US National Academy and the Royal Swedish Academy which awards the Nobel prizes.

  • Foreign Policy named him a thought leader in 2014; In 2018, He (with James Hansen) was named the Tang Laureate for sustainability science.

I could easily keep adding to this list, as we really have met some amazing folks in this past year. However, this post would turn into an encyclopedia of changemakers of sorts—not a bad thing, but it’s only the second week of January so I’m sure I’ll be making quarterly updates and additions to this list.

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