My name is Catherine “Cat” Diggs, former Manager of Programs & Outreach, at Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) and have spent the past 10 months working on the Solar Stories of Detroit documentary project with my project partner, Alex da Veiga. We have just recently completed it and I wanted to share our journey of completing it with you.
The purpose of this project is to elevate the voices of community leaders, who have transitioned partially or fully toward the use of solar energy, in the form of short videos. Through our in-person or virtual interviews, the community leaders (organizational leaders, residents, business owners, faith leaders, urban farmers) we met were able to relay their solar journey in relatable and inspiring terms. They were able to explain how solar energy has had a positive impact on their lives and the lives of their respective communities. This project gave them an opportunity to take a moment to celebrate their accomplishment in the midst of a very challenging year of great human loss, uncertainty, transition and oftentimes, isolation.
I want to thank the LISC AmeriCorps program, DWEJ and my partners at the Renewable Energy Committee of the Detroit Green Task Force for supporting my Solar Stories of Detroit Innovation Project.
This project has allowed me to feel connected to my role as Community Engagement Coordinator and Manager of Programs throughout the COVID crisis, which required us to work remotely and socially distance from one another. It has allowed me to put my organizing and storytelling abilities to work. And for that, I am very thankful.
I am also very thankful to have been able to work with Alexandre Da Veiga, a trusted project partner, with whom I have teamed up many times in the past 5 years for other projects. He is an experienced photojournalist, who was based in Detroit from 2015 until the summer of 2020, when he moved to Philadelphia, where he now resides. This means that he traveled all the way from Phili to Detroit, in order to work with me on this project, and I frankly would not have been able to do it without him. So thank you, Alex. Check out his website here: http://alexandredaveiga.com/.
I would also like to thank all the musicians and producers, who have shared their music with us:
- Jienan Yuan – jienanyuan.bandcamp.com
- Charnell Williams – @charisma _ creative
- Chad Van Jenkins – chadvanjenkins.bandcamp.com
- Moopy – djmoppy.bandcamp.com
Without them, the videos would not have been as engaging and vibrant.
It was back in October that I came up with the vision for my project:
“Creating a platform where the voices of Detroit residents, community builders and/or nonprofit leaders, urban farmers, faith leaders, as well business owners, who have made the transition toward the use of solar energy, can be elevated through collaborative storytelling techniques (video interviews) and used as a source of inspiration for breaking down knowledge barriers and by extension, growing the demand for solar energy in Detroit, which only uses 1% of its rooftop potential citywide.”
In other words, my goal was to interview community leaders citywide (ideally in person and socially distanced), in order to have them talk to us (Alex and I) about their journey with solar energy in relatable terms, not in highly technical terms. To share with us, their story as organizations, residents, businesses, houses of worship, urban farms, in regards to their journey with solar energy and the positive impact it has had on them and their respective organizations and communities. And despite all the odds (COVID cases rising both statewide and nationally, the weather changing from hot to cold, the time restraints of needing to schedule interviews in a timely manner, of getting to the interviews without a vehicle of our own, of editing a handful of those videos on deadline), Alex and I have received incredible support on our project from the community. While our original goal was to document 5 to 10 solar success, all and all we will have collected a total of 16 community leaders (11 in person and 5 virtually)
The interest community leaders showed in our project and their willingness to share their story was a true honor to us and gives us a strong sense of accomplishment. Our hope is that this project gave them an opportunity to take a moment to celebrate their accomplishment in the midst of a very challenging year of great human loss, uncertainty, transition and oftentimes, isolation. I believe that is why most community leaders have been open to hosting us in-person for the interviews. The masked and socially distanced interactions we shared with them were therapeutic and allowed us all to feel more connected to the work that we do to support our communities. Throughout the interviews, Alex and I have received tours of the respective properties we visited, shared meaningful conversations, climbed on roofs, and really got to learn more deeply about the wide array of inspiring initiatives that are taking place across the city as we speak.
Moreover, through this project we have allowed community leaders to share in relatable terms why “going solar” is so important for Detroit and why it might be more accessible than we think. In doing so, they are helping us break the knowledge barriers surrounding the idea of going solar. They shared lessons learned, how-to’s, and tips for how to finance such projects. They gave their communities words of encouragement about the promise of a clean energy future for all. In that way, once the videos are edited, finalized and embedded online, the everyday person should feel more included and compelled in a conversation surrounding the urgency of transitioning toward the use of renewable energy. This project is therefore in many ways, a way to bring people together and to strengthen a local support system for allowing others to go solar.
The fact that the project was so successful tells me that no project of the sort had not been truly pursued before. Individual coverage of stories had perhaps been performed, but no effort had been pursued to document so many divergent projects citywide. Also, the topic of the project was targeted (solar energy and why it works?) and the interviewees were from diverse socio-cultural, gender, racial, and professional backgrounds.
I think our project contributes a value added to our sustainability efforts in Detroit, because more often than not, organizations and community leaders city-wide do not have the time or resources to celebrate their contributions, especially during the COVID era. I think it is extremely important to connect those stories and to weave them together, in order to spur inspiration among Detroiters. The idea is to spread the word around Detroit that going solar is possible.
Ultimately, the idea is that if grassroots demand for solar grows from all sides, government officials will be more prone to creating favorable and equitable policies for access to renewables. A more unanimous transition toward solar will, in turn, help us reduce citywide emissions.
Alex and I are excited to share the finished product of our work – 16 short videos- with you and our hope is that this project will become a more collective effort to document success stories around sustainability initiatives that will live on into the future and inspire others to become part of the solution!