ABOVE: Laz Alonso and Chelsea Lenora White
With the return of the SWAC Football Championship to Houston, the Toyota Green Initiative put volunteers into action at the Blodgett Urban Garden to give back to the community on last Friday. The Toyota Green Initiative has previously invested in the Houston community with several community service days, including collaboration with Texas Southern University and the SWAC.
Committed to impacting sustainability and green living in communities through service and education, the Toyota Green Initiative, along with Detroit star Laz Alonso partnered with Houston locals to help prepare the Blodgett Urban Garden to become a food bank for future natural disasters. Located in the heart of Third Ward, the community space has garnered attention from city officials over the years for its impact in providing low-income families with fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables.
Actor, Laz Alonso, joined the Toyota Green Initiative earlier this year to become a vocal advocate for greener living. His passion for the environment, healthy lifestyles, and strong communities has fueled his message and action with the initiative. As an emerging artist in Hollywood and with a resume that includes blockbuster hits Avatar and Fast and Furious, Laz’s mix of altruistic passion and talent have inspired people around the country.
Forward Times had the opportunity to sit down with Alonso at the Blodgett Urban Garden and find out more about the actor’s partnership with the Toyota Green Initiative, how he acquired his green thumb, green injustice and who he was rooting for in the SWAC Football Championship, prior to the game.
Chelsea Lenora White: How did you get involved with Toyota Green Initiative?
Laz Alonso: When I found out about this program, I was really excited about hopefully being considered to be one of their coalition members. Toyota was actually responsible for turning me “green”. Before my first Prius, I was all about how dope my car looked sitting on 22s or 24s and how much noise it made when I hit the gas. And when I did Avatar back in 2008, I noticed that the director, James Cameron, who had a lot more money than I did, was driving a Prius. And a lot of other actors, main cast, crew members and producers, all drove Priuses. And it just opened my eyes that it’s not a money thing, it’s more of a social responsibility thing. It has nothing to do with how much money you have before you can start giving back. We can all give back in our own little ways, starting now. So, eventually, I got my Prius and it changed the way that I drove and the way that I looked at things. I became more aware of the water situation, and this was before Flint [water crisis]. It just made me more responsible. Now I have my own fruit garden. I grow about eight different types of fruit; lemons, lime, a lot of citrus fruit. I got a guava tree that ain’t trying to give me no fruit, so we have problems with the guava tree. I’m fighting gophers. I have a gopher problem.
CLW: So, you’re really about this life?
LA: Oh, yes, I’m absolutely about this life. I’ve lost three banana trees already to the gophers, so we’re beefing.
CLW: No pun intended.
LA: Yeah, no pun intended. However, I found out that if you build an owl’s nest on your yard, owls will find it. Their gift is that they can find places to nest. So now I’m using YouTube to figure out how to build an owl’s nest because I’m going to build an owl’s nest in the spring. Once you have owls on your property, the gophers are done; they’re lunch meat. So that’s my new thing; attracting owls to the crib. I mean, who would’ve thought? I grew up in [Washington] D.C., which is Chocolate City. And now I’m out here trying to figure out how to get owls on my property to get rid of gophers.
CLW: It’s safe to say that you’ve acquired a green thumb.
LA: Definitely. So Toyota Green Initiative is a partnership that made sense to me. I only want to do things that I really believe in. Addressing food deserts and teaching the community how to farm, is something that I believe in. I’m a big Killer Mike fan and he’s big on that. We have to learn how to farm and grow our own food. When we say that we want to be independent, it means a lot of things and this is one of them.
CLW: Absolutely. I think that it is significant that we are here at Blodgett Urban Garden, which has provided low-income families with fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables over the years. Do you believe that there is food injustice in lower income communities?
LA: Without a doubt. There are many different injustices that need addressing. Some buddies of mine that went to Howard University with me own a solar energy company called Volt Energy and I’m an investor in their company. Through that business relationship, I realized how much “green injustice” there is. When they start turning these neighborhoods sustainable and investing in green, they’re leaving us for the end. We’re the afterthought. But when it comes to where they place dumpsters and areas to dispose of trash, sewage and waste, it usually ends up closer to our neighborhoods than the more affluent neighborhoods. So you really do see that there is a pattern when it comes to creating more sustainability. It usually goes to certain neighborhoods first and we tend to be last on the list. So a partnership like this, Toyota is basically putting their money where their mouth is. I mean, we’re here in Third Ward, partnering with HBCUs. I’m a graduate of an HBCU. There are just so many different layers to this program that make me really, organically connected to the message and the goal here.
CLW: How hands on have you been during this initiative today? Have you been pointing and delegating or are you actually getting your hands dirty?
LA: I wouldn’t say that I’m pointing and delegating but there are definitely people who are working harder than I am. My gloves are just semi-dirty. They’ve got a little dust on them. They match my Yeezy shoes at home so I don’t want to get them too dirty. But all jokes aside, what I love more than anything is the camaraderie out there. I went to this one brother who was working in one area and I admittedly didn’t know what I was doing. So I asked him a question and he said, “Man, I don’t understand this environment stuff. They just told me to do this, so I’m doing it.” So, it was just funny. He was just trying to help out. But you leave here differently. You leave here learning something new.
We had this little crew over there by the mulch pile and I said, “I’m gonna mulch. I know mulch. I may not know a lot of other things but a brother can mulch.” This brother started handing out sugarcane over there after he chopped it down and it was a lot of people’s first time ever tasting sugarcane. They were able to taste it in its most natural form, before it’s processed and refined. It was just fun. We took that one moment and it became a thing. Cats were dancing and singing about sugarcane and freestyling.
CLW: There is a real sense of community and fellowship throughout this initiative.
LA: It is, absolutely.
CLW: Are you attending the SWAC Football Championship game on tomorrow?
LA: I am.
CLW: Who are you rooting for?
LA: I would like to remain neutral. I’m rooting for both teams. But Toyota Green Initiative has a section over at NRG and we’re going to have a fitness demonstration. Now that the holidays are here, I have this program called the T4 to keep your tummy tight. I’m the main one who needs it right now because last week, I went in for Thanksgiving. But we’re going to do a fun routine for people to do when they wake up in the morning. You don’t need weights. All you need is a little bit of energy and a desire to keep your body right.
The Toyota Green Initiative is an environmental stewardship platform designed to empower Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) students and alumni on the benefits of adopting a sustainable lifestyle.
For more information about The Toyota Green Initiative, visit www.Toyota.com