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Unity Award winner Felice Green works to reforest underserved Milwaukee neighborhoods

Felice Green (pictured above) is the programming director of the Milwaukee Water Commons and one of the winners of Milwaukee Magazine's Unity Awards this year.
CJ Foeckler
Milwaukee Magazine
Felice Green (pictured above) is the programming director of the Milwaukee Water Commons and one of the winners of Milwaukee Magazine's Unity Awards this year.

The February issue of Milwaukee Magazine features the five winners of its 2024 Unity Awards.

The awards highlight people and organizations that are making Milwaukee a more inclusive and equitable place to live, work and play.

One of the recipients is Felice Green. She’s the director of programming for the Milwaukee Water Commons.

Green was recognized for her work in addressing social and environmental justice issues in underserved neighborhoods by reforesting them.

Lake Effect’s Xcaret Nuñez speaks with Green about her efforts to educate locals about environmental issues in their communities — including her own neighborhood, Sherman Park.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

What is the Milwaukee Water Commons and what does your work look like as its director of programming?

Milwaukee Water Commons is a nonprofit organization that works across neighborhoods and networks to build and develop connections that result in collaborations and community leadership on behalf of our beloved waters. We promote stewardship of, equitable access to, and shared decision-making for our common waters. As the director of programming, I get to work with nonprofit organizations, city officials and community leaders to help make Milwaukee a green city. As a result of that, I got to lead our Branch Out Milwaukee initiative in the Sherman Park community. A part of the work includes being able to work at the intersection of environmental justice, which is to bring people together to experience water and nature in better ways. So one of those ways is the Branch Out Milwaukee, Sherman Park pilot program that started in 2022.

What needs are you hoping to address in the Sherman Park neighborhood? 

We started the Branch Out Milwaukee project in the Sherman Park community because it was a long-neglected community and area with high rates of poverty and environmental justice issues like asthma. So, the Branch Out Milwaukee project focuses on equity, public health, and environmental health. We're working to educate and bring awareness to climate resilience and workforce development while maximizing the benefits of an urban tree canopy in the Sherman Park community. Currently, we're on target this year to plant about 200 trees in city-owned lots, along with helping to green up private property for homeowners in the community as well. Our goal is to expand the Branch Out Milwaukee program to other marginalized communities throughout the Milwaukee area as well. In this neighborhood, we want to address the public health challenges that residents are facing. And we know and believe that robust tree canopy can help improve that because it gives us better air quality. Trees remove carbon dioxide from the air and protect us from the sun, along with helping to improve our mental health and wellness.

What are some of the changes you’ve already noticed since working to make Sherman Park a greener neighborhood?

I am noticing that residents can get information about tools and resources they can utilize. For example, rain barrels and rain gardens — we’re working with one of our partner organizations to help get those on their private property, in addition to more block watch meetings and spring cleanups in the neighborhood. People also understand a little more about why we want to be a plastic-free community, and residents are sharing their tree stories. In the next month, we will be working with 40 residents to plant trees in their backyards or front yards to help ensure that Sherman Park will be a greener community for years to come.

Who helped instill community service as a value in your life? 

Community service is the backbone of my family. Growing up, I can remember we were always giving to holiday food drives to support families that may need a little extra support during the holidays. I also attended a church that strongly supported community involvement in different ways. So, for me, community service has been a staple in my life, and I happen to be a part of the work we're doing in the environment at this time. I happen to have a lot of interests, too, like voter registration, traffic safety and education. I'm a servant leader and truthfully, at this time, I believe God has just called me to do this work, and I'm grateful for the opportunity. The Bible is clear that the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, and the world and all who dwell in it. I'm here, and I want to do my part as a community servant and as a resident in the City of Milwaukee to help build a healthier planet. And a healthier planet leads to healthier people. So I'm a part of this village. My family has been a part of the village. They have passed the baton down to the next generation, and I'm striving to do the same — to pass the baton to the next generation of environmentalists, to the next generation of educators, to the next generation of residents who want to learn and be more eco-friendly so that we can have a healthier planet and have healthier people.


Xcaret is a WUWM producer for Lake Effect.
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