Washington, DC

Earth Conservation Corps

Brenda Lee Richardson

I believe I can fly…. The lyric of a song that is characteristic of the transformation that young people at the Earth Conservation Corps make when they join the organization. Many of our urban youth in Washington, D.C. are indeed an endangered species. Many of whom are lost to the violence in the streets with no alternatives to consider. The ECC takes on the task to save their lives as they save their environment and their community.

The Earth Conservation Corps is a non-profit, youth development and environmental service organization located where the once heavily polluted Anacostia River flows through our nation’s capital’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. Since 1989, the ECC has been successfully reclaiming two of America’s most endangered resources – our youth and our environment. We use the challenge and promise of restoring the Anacostia River to engage unemployed community youth in transformative environmental action and service. A small but highly-trained staff provides the young people with the leadership skills and environmental expertise to empower them to engage hundreds of school children and adults in the restoration of the Anacostia River.

Our history is inspiring. In 1992, nine unemployed young men and women living at Ward Eight’s Valley Green public housing project volunteered to engage in national service to change their lives by restoring the polluted Lower Beaverdam Creek. Motivated by the belief their strong hearts, minds, and muscles could reclaim the Anacostia, they pulled on waders, climbed into the polluted creek, and started to demolish negative stereotypes of African American urban youth and urban rivers. The astonishing commitment of these young volunteers launched a community youth movement to take back their Anacostia. Today, the river is much improved, but having 25 young adults laid to rest during that time is grim testament to the racial and economic divide in our nation’s capital.

Following the leadership of ECC Corps Members, thousands of youth from vulnerable East of the River neighborhoods laid the cornerstone for a solution to the city’s intertwined problems of pollution and poverty. In the process, ECC Corps Members desperate to become part of American society have blazed new paths for themselves, their families, and their communities. Their success was in bringing the proven esprit de corps of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the nation’s largest national service effort in history that was created during of the Great Depression, to the impoverished communities of our nation’s capital. Engaging unemployed youth to undertake the vital work of restoring natural habitats harnesses the leadership, educational, and employment potential of this vital segment of our community.
Through restoration work and deployment of science, we strive to inspire and lead the restoration of the Anacostia River. We will use our muscles, hearts, and minds to turn a once forgotten river into a global model for the power of active conservation. We find strength from the words of Dr. Dianne Fossey, “it’s not talking about conservation, it’s the action that counts. Conservation begins with the boots on your feet.” In 2017, we are blazing trails in water quality, wetland restoration and tree canopy improvement. Our goals for each one are as follows:

  • Water Quality Monitoring | To use this science as a tool to educate our youth and create a path for citizen scientists to invest in the river that flows through our nation’s capital.
  • Wetland Restoration | To protect and preserve Washington, D.C.’s only wetland on the banks of the Anacostia River. We use this as an opportunity to inform adults and children alike on the importance of the wetland and how it is a habitat for wildlife who populations are growing stronger now the river is much cleaner.
  • Tree Canopy | To create a more beautiful and robust tree canopy east of the river which provides more shade to reduce electricity and clean our air. Trees also improve property value. Research has shown that it brings a sense of calm to communities.

ECC Corps members have inspired the Restoration of the Anacostia River initiative and continue their leadership of ecosystem restoration. The ECC Corps members have always done this by tackling the impossible and getting it done. Today, having turned a city’s focus to the Anacostia River, our youth are continuing to deploy innovative science and fully restore this once forgotten river to its full function as an environmental system with its entire native species.

About Brenda Lee Richardson

Brenda Lee Richardson, a resident of Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., and an eco-feminist, has been working on welfare reform, environmental justice, economic development and health issues for the past 25 years. The former Interim Managing Director of the Earth Conservation Corps, she is the President of Chozen Consulting, LLC, a consulting company that focuses on community engagement, facilitation, training, and government relations. Ms. Richardson was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilmember Marion Barry. Ms. Richardson served as the Managing Director of the Metropolitan Dialogue for many years. This is a group of people of faith who met monthly to discuss civic issues in the District of Columbia. From 1995 to 1996, Ms. Richardson was the Director of Resident Services for the D.C. Housing Authority, and prior to that, she was the Executive Director of the Anacostia/Congress Heights Partnership. She has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan and a Master's of Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.