Amazing news – our staffer Dante Kaleo Alnas-Benson has been recognized as a leader among his community by the 50 Fund and Levi’s! They have made him a Rookie Playmaker, for his work to spread the word about healthy food access, and lead his peers by example in the community he has grown up in, Berkeley, CA. As part of this recognition, Dante is the star of a video, is featured on Levi’s and the 50 Fund’s websites, he’ll get VIP access at an upcoming football game, and our Youth Environmental Academy receives $10,000 to expand our program. Watch the video:
Dante came to the Ecology Center as a teen through a summer jobs program. Along with other high school students, he learned about the most pressing environmental issues of our time including climate change, water conservation, and waste and pollution. He was most drawn, however, to issues of health disparities and diet-related diseases that disproportionately affect low-income communities.
At age 22, Dante has gone from intern to Youth Development Program Associate and is a well-loved and well-respected community leader with a passion for sparking change. Dante not only helps run our local Farmers’ Markets, and our Farm Fresh Choice stands in low income neighborhoods, but most importantly, he serves as a role-model and leader for the incoming Youth Environmental Academy participants. He takes time to chat with community and youth about where our produce comes from, the importance of sustainable agriculture, and ways to integrate more fresh fruits and vegetables into our daily diets.
Dante says, “It is easy to pretend like what we as young people eat is not a big deal, to sweep the addiction to junk food and all the unhealthy food marketing that happens in our community under the rug. But there is something powerful about having another young person, your same age, in front of you telling you ‘hey, you have this choice, you can take this organic fruit and these vegetables and you can make meals from this.’ Over the years I have seen families come to the stands on a weekly basis. If we switch locations, they still come! It is great to see them bring their children and to hear about the meals they made with the produce they got from the Farm Fresh Choice stand. Sometimes they even bring me a plate!”
Dante believes that a first step toward improving health outcomes within low-income communities is to educate and demonstrate change through simple actions. He models healthy choices by supporting local farmers who use agricultural methods that preserve soil and conserve water. In Dante’s words, “Food is medicine. We should no longer have to go out of our way to get medicine to treat diseases that we inherited from eating junk food.” Dante sees the connections between the earth, the farmers, and the consumers, and he wants the world to see those connections as well.
Thank you, 50 Fund and Levi’s for recognizing Dante Kaleo Alnas-Benson, and lifting him up – this award spreads inspiration and encouragement our young people need to continue fighting for environmental justice in the decades to come.
And, thank you Dante Kaleo Alnas-Benson for doing this work with us! We’d also like to recognize David McClellan, another long time young community leader who supports this work and appears in the video, and our Youth Development Program Manager, Elyse Rainey.