memories from my childhood. We were told, ‘You need to go and collect the water.’ ‘Okay, it’s going to be fun.’ When you grow up, that’s when you really understand
what is going on. Water is a very scarce resource. That’s why here, especially with hot water, we say to people, ‘Not only might be you wasting water, if it is hot
water, you are paying for that hot water. That’s another connection right there with energy that sometimes we don’t think about. When I do workshops, I joke with
people who attend the workshops and ask them how long they take a shower. The replies are from three minutes to like 45 minutes. Someone said one hour. People
have their reasons why, but the responses are fascinating. But when they hear that hot water is the second most expensive item that they are paying for in their
electric bill, then they rethink stuff, especially when families have teenagers. I tell them that if they have young kids right now, this is the time for you to tell them
how long you want them in the shower. Here at MG&E, we have these cool timers that people can place in the shower. It’s timed for seven minutes. My timer is
music. I listen to two songs and I am done. I don’t think in the shower because if I do, I stay in there.”
Cedric Johnson, Garcia Sierra’s teammate, also recalls the conservation of resources during his childhood.
“In our latest video in Living in Balance featuring Barbara Boustead, I talk about how in our family a lot of times we shared clothes,” Johnson said. “There is one
dress that my sisters all wore. If you look at their second-grade pictures, at one point or another, they are all wearing this velvet dress with the white trim around it.
We didn’t talk about it as sustainability. It came from a place of necessity.”Sustainability also meant fresh and healthy food, often picked out of the garden.“A lot of
those traditions and practices are learned with family,” Johnson said. “In my experience in the Black community that I grew up in, it tended to center on activities
that you did with your family, as you were cooking together, for example. My grandfather had a small garden and grew vegetables. My grandmother had a garden as
well. Those became a part of the process of cooking. You would go out and pick food, bring it in and start cooking. And as you’re cooking, you’re talking with your
grandmother and learning stories about her when she was little and just picking up on these family jewels because a lot of times, you don’t, for many Black people,
have documents or photos that show you who you are or where you come from. For me, those activities opened the door for all of these other possibilities to find out
who you are. With food, that was huge in our family. We were always cooking and eating.”Garcia Sierra emphasized that it was that sense of community and shared
responsibility that allowed communities of color to survive, qualities that lead to sustainability today.“I feel a big part of that is the sense of community, that you
belong to a community that you rely on,” Garcia Sierra said. “A big part of sustainability is the people to people connection. And from there comes the resource
sharing. Quite often, for example, people ask for a ride. ‘Will you give me a ride to somewhere?’ We remind people of this, especially the young ones, about walking
and the connection to nature. For centuries, there has been the connection with nature.”
Previous to Living in Balance, MG&E sponsored The New Green Challenge, which created community built around sustainability and resource conservation through
cohorts that attended workshops and networked through social media.
“The core of Living in Balance and The New Green Challenge is the same,” Garcia Sierra said. “That’s about sharing stories about of community members engaged
in sustainability practices. Early on, we use to do a little bit more classes and we engaged more with a small cohort of families. That was great. It was a good
learning experience. We used to do less of social media and videos. For now, we are doing a bit of the opposite, more social media and more video stories with a
lot of information on the social media and the web so that people can access it on their cell phones. That’s what we heard from people. And also we are
supplementing that with workshops like what Cedric and others from our team are doing out in the community around energy. Like I said, the core is the same, to
share stories not just for the sake of sharing the stories, but also that we are ready to do more and share new practices and also to show this community that when
it comes to sustainability, there are different faces out there. Not every effort looks the same.”
“The mission of Living in Balance is really to serve as a platform to share these stories about sustainability through the lens of people in local communities of color,
showing faces and people you might know so that it is really more relevant and you connect deeper and quicker with it,” Johnson added. “It’s a story-telling platform
that we want to continue to grow. My dream is that we find a way to collect even more stories that we can share with even more people. I get stories all the time
being out in the community. Sometimes they are short because I am tabling at an event and someone comes by and they talk about their bill. I ask them what is
going on and I get a story out of that. Other times, I get more time to spend with people. At the end of the day, as Mario said earlier, we encourage people to reach out
to us, either Mario, Mai Lor or Mario.”
Currently, there are three stories on the Living in Balance website plus lots of important information about energy and sustainability.
MG&E’s Living in Balance Initiative
Following the Lead of Our Ancestors
By Jonathan Gramling
While sustainability and conservation seem like relatively new initiatives pushed by a
predominantly Euro-American, middle class constituency, communities of color have
been practicing sustainability and conservation for centuries. They just didn’t call it that.
It was all about survival.
Mario Garcia Sierra, one of the leaders of MG&E’s Living in Balance initiative — which
promotes sustainability and preservation of resources — knows all about sustainability
from his years growing up in Guatemala City because potable water was a scarce
“In my neighborhood, we only got water for specific days of the week and a specific
amount of hours,” Garcia Sierra said. “Sometimes that wouldn’t be the case.
Sometimes you would rely on the rain. And you had to collect the water. That gives me
|Cedric Johnson (l-r) and Mario Garcia Sierra lead MG&E’s Living in
“Sharing your story is a good way to start,” Garcia Sierra said. “Being informed is
another way, so we created this website HYPERLINK "http://www.
livinginbalancemadison.com". If you go there, you can see what stories and resources
we have there. Right now, we have three stories. When you look at them, it gives you a
good idea of how communities of color in the Madison area are being champions of
sustainability. And that is something that we want to claim because that’s what it is. It
goes from the Hmong family, a family that has been gardening for generations, that
produces vegetables and sells them at the Farmers Market. There is a connection with
energy there as well. We have the story of the Gonzalez family who opened a restaurant
in Middleton about two years ago. They had a connection with The New Green Challenge
back then. Energy was on the top of their minds as opposed to other people who don’t
think much about it. They make sure that appliances are energy efficient. They is LCD
lighting and natural lighting. At the end of the day, it makes a big difference. They are
also supporting a community shared solar program. They are going to be getting 50
percent of their electricity from this solar program in Middleton’s Morey Field. They care
about conservation, but they thought there was something else that they could do and
that was joining the shared solar program. And then you have another amazing story of
Barbara Boustead whose job is to work with people to plan for the future. It’s primarily
around financial resources. But it also has a connection with the environment. She has
also joined our shared-solar program because she sees the value of something that
she wants to be a part of and leave a footprint on that program.”
Living in Balance not only helps you joining the movement for sustainability and
conservation, but it also will help you save some money as you reduce your energy
needs. And that is a win-win situation.
For more information about Living in Balance, visit their website at
www.livinginbalancemadison.com; visit them on Facebook at
or email Cedric Johnson
HYPERLINK "mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org"
or Mario Garcia Sierra (email@example.com).