|MGE Career Ambassadors Share Their Stories
By Cedric Johnson
MGE Community Services Manager, and the 2020 MGE Career Ambassadors
Every summer, MGE hosts a group of high school interns known as Career Ambassadors. These exemplary young people are connected to MGE through
partnerships with community organizations including Centro Hispano, Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, 100 Black Men of Madison, and the Urban League of Greater
Madison. During the week of July 13, 2020, the students spent time with MGE's Residential and Community Services (RCS) team exploring storytelling and how it
helps us build a stronger connection with sustainable living practices. The students shared their own stories about conserving water and other resources, and
reducing their carbon footprints. The topic of transportation launched a rich discussion on access, equity, and privilege. These lenses play a large part in our work in
RCS and how we think about marketing MGE products and services. As part of their internship, the Career Ambassadors worked together to write the following
Career Ambassadors – Their Sustainability Story in Their Words
We spent a good portion of our summer learning some of the career paths at MGE. Right off the bat, we learned that community was the core foundation of MGE, and
although it wasn't explicitly said, that was a major component of our program as well. Through ice breakers and random cahoots, we managed to form a sense of
familiarity and comfortability with one another; however, nothing sparked a conversation like Julian's sustainability piece on transportation: Cold as a winter's day.
That morning, I forgot to check the weather. Though my parents offered to give me a ride after my exam was over, I assured them that I would find a way back home.
I didn't though.
It was February 2019. I would hear the clinging of keys every step I'd take in the halls despite the howling voices of people around my age. Only a few of my friends,
especially at my age, didn't know how to drive. A few of us either didn't have the money to afford driver's ed, the money to drive a car, or the privilege of even
driving on the road. Being part of the latter, I knew I had to endure whatever it takes to get from point A to B.
On the day of my ACT exam, I walked from school back home. At the time, I had forgotten my bus pass, money, and I wasn't sure of how to use transportation. I
walked around four miles home in the middle of a blizzard. The point is, it took several days learning the bus system. And though I had always felt odd for not being
able to drive a car let alone start one, I knew that what I was doing was at least a favor to myself and the environment.
At many transit points, I'd see college students, parents, workers, and people like me. I no longer worried extensively about how to get to places after learning how
to read and use google maps. I no longer avoided volunteering events because my parents weren't free that afternoon to give me a ride. Public transportation
became less of a problem despite facing barriers that came my way.
Just like Julian, having a "bad bus experience," having to walk for long periods of time because getting a car wasn't a "rite of passage" or there simply wasn't a
public transit in an area resonated with all of us. The stigma associated with taking the bus or walking home was something we all knew too well. Bad looks from
peers when you cancel on a volunteering event because you don't have the means of transportation; name calling when seen walking to a fast food joint during
lunch; or losing friends because having a car made them "cooler" was an experience we'd encountered or knew someone who had. The infamous "you don't have
your license?" was more of a rhetorical question that coded for "are you low-income?," "are you undocumented?" or "do your parents not trust you?"
We also recognized that there was a pattern: the majority of students who couldn't afford this luxury were students of color and, for a while, it felt like not having a
car as a high school student was a burden, a means of segregation between classmates one could say. This is no coincidence. We could go into the detailed history
of "40 acres and a mule" or how the impacts of redlining and racial discrimination in workforces have played a huge factor into the economic impacts that most
families of color deal with today— but that's a story for another time. This isn't a target toward people with the privilege of owning a car but rather a wake-up call to
those who still choose to be ignorant with micro-aggressions that often demean students without this privilege. It's crazy how a simple topic such as transportation
plays a major role into our social and economic status.
But we Career Ambassador Students choose to believe differently. For one reason or another, some of us may not have a license, or get one later than others, but
we refuse to let this define us.
As Blessing said in our discussion, "Taking public transportation doesn't define your financial background; get it when you're ready." We see it as a means of
sustainability. We can proudly say our carbon footprints are lower than that of our peers. What others see as a disadvantage, we choose to see as a means of
saving our planet in what little way we can. We remain forever grateful for this opportunity MGE gave us—from learning about the different forms of saving energy to
understanding it in a new lens (check out Genre 2030 and Living in Balance!). We have a newfound appreciation for MGE's work, and we will strive to educate
others to do better as well. VSCO girls said, "Save the turtles," the Career Ambassadors say, "let's live sustainably!"