Community resiliency: a Q&A with Minneapolis Climate Action’s Director Akisha Everett
We all have something in common – we’re human. Getting down to how we’re more similar than different from one another is what Akisha Everett, the new executive director of Minneapolis Climate Action, describes as central to her work.
Before joining MCA, Everett worked in different capacities at the Institute on the Environment since 2019. Everett started as project manager on the energy storage battery pilot project, which was developed to demonstrate the process and possibilities of community-scale renewable energy storage through installing and testing different battery applications, before taking on the role of community engagement coordinator. Her last day at IonE is today, August 31.
We sat down with Everett to ask about her proudest moments at IonE, her insights on how community engagement intersects with climate work, and what’s next for her in her new role. The conversation below is lightly edited.
What are you most proud of from your time at IonE?
I can say my most proud moments involve the battery energy storage system installs we completed during that pilot project. There are three sites we did installs with: the Government Center for Red Lake Nation, Renewable Energy Partners’ Regional Apprenticeship Training Center in North Minneapolis, and the Green Prairie Community residence hall at the U’s Morris campus.
This was supposed to be more of a research project involving batteries and resiliency – and how they interacted with solar – because we erected the batteries with buildings that already had solar arrays on top of them, right? But during COVID, it ended up being more like this study on procurement and supply chain issues. We were in the middle of a pandemic.
Was there anything else particularly challenging or rewarding?
Some other proud moments [on the project] involved navigating UMN systems. It’s not as easy as just writing a check for equipment; we had to go through multiple offices, which can be challenging as a new employee. Sometimes it can feel like everybody is a “super brain,” right? And you’re in this place where you’re like, I don’t know if I really belong here.
There’s a whole process, and there’s really few people who know this convoluted system of how to get things [like a battery] paid for, because IonE is not historically a unit that procures capital assets. So, I made connections with people in those offices. If I didn’t know how to do something within our financial system, I would go over to the Controller’s Office on the West Bank in person, and they were so nice and so welcoming.
Those kinds of rewarding relationships were so helpful and important, especially for me coming from a community organization. And that’s kind of where I always land. Instead of finding ways we’re different from each other – it’s really that we have so much more in common. I try to pull from those things… and just get down to being human so that we can all make each other greater in this work.
What is important in climate work?
I think one of the most important parts of climate work, to me, is making sure that people are educated on the changes that are happening, right? We know that low-income people care about climate change because they’re the first people impacted by inclement weather, by natural disasters, by any of these things.
And so it’s not that they don’t care – or don’t want to make changes that are essential for clean energy. I think that, you know, when you’re in a desperate situation, you’re thinking about Where am I going to sleep tonight? or How will I feed my kids? That kind of thing goes on the back burner.
But, if the education is there, and we also have sessions where we hear what it is that people actually need, for example, in terms of resiliency when it comes to natural disasters, we can present the facts and findings to the community, and work to implement change.
It sounds like you would consider a community-engaged approach essential.
We had a tornado here in North Minneapolis about 12 years ago. It happened on a Sunday. Before that happened, we didn’t necessarily think about what would happen during the week when kids were in school. If we know that places have an emergency plan and kids are safe and that call can go out, then everybody can stay in place until it’s safe for people to go out. Or: We have seniors that rely on the energy to power their oxygen machines or their motorized scooters. Or refrigeration for different medicines.
So I think a collaborative communication strategy is essential. The community has to be included in plans in order to capture everybody’s needs.
And bringing people that community-engagement approach is very essential, I think, to how we’re going to be ahead of this movement, or just fall in line with the movement, because I think we’re kind of trying to catch up with the whole clean energy industry. That should have started 20 years ago. But here we are.
You’re the new Executive Director at Minneapolis Climate Action! What will that entail?
A lot of the work that happens at Minneapolis Climate Action currently is around helping communities develop community solar gardens.
The last one was developed at North Community High School, and then the one before that was at EMERGE’s Second Chance Recycling Center. So – working with community organizations and doing community engagement to find roof spaces to erect community solar gardens to bring clean energy to low income communities in order to offset costs for buildings that are paying large amounts of money for energy every day.
MCA will also be taking on the role of managing the REP Apprenticeship Training Center. And this is where we’ll do clean energy workforce development.
Earlier, when I said education is so important: if we can teach people in a two-week class how to install solar panels, that also monetizes clean energy career pathways. So maybe they start with that and maybe they move into electricity or electrical engineering. It doesn’t have to stop with solar panels, but solar panel installation is a livable wage, entry level job. Making it a movement that everybody is included in is important.
You don’t have to be an electrical engineer to have conversations about climate change and clean energy and energy transition.
Are there experiences at IonE that you will carry into your new role?
Absolutely. For one: The energy storage battery is still at the REP training center. There’s so much research to be had, and to continue with.
I’m charging myself with making sure that we keep our connection with IonE, and make sure our graduates and postdocs from the energy storage battery project are still able to come in to do this research. Now that the installs are complete, we can ask – How do we monitor the buildings? How efficient are they? We put all this time and money, for four years, into this pilot project. Now let’s continue it – and do the research.
There were also so many people – within the University and also community experts – who I met doing this work. This energy transition movement is a small group of people that are doing amazing things.
It’s really refreshing to know that people are doing really good work across the state of Minnesota, within the inner city and greater Minnesota and in Tribal communities. There are collaborative efforts being made statewide. That was what was really enriching to me.
I had been working all my life in the inner city. To have these experiences with people who live somewhere else within Minnesota who have similar barriers, but different experiences – you learn so much from that. The diversity within peoples’ experience – that’s what I am definitely going to take with me and, you know, I’ll continue to have those experiences.
I think that that’s what has really opened up doors for me as the REP training center is in a full renovation right now. As the completion comes, I hope to have a grand opening so that we can invite all these collaborators and community folks in so that there’s a bigger conversation about a clean energy workforce.
And this is not just an isolated movement. This model can be replicated. We need this work. We need to train people all over the state. I’m hoping that we can work together and create a movement. It’s not goodbye; the door is still open.
Dana Hernandez (she/her) is an IonE communications specialist. Her professional interests include environmental communications and intersectional storytelling.