Through its work with schools and community partners, Lowe’s is committed to empowering the next generation of leaders. The Nature Conservancy shares the same passion. For more than a decade, Lowe’s has worked with The Nature Conservancy on conservation and education projects across the U.S., including many near The Nature Conservancy’s headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.
Jerome Cunningham, who has been with The Nature Conservancy for eight years and started as an intern, merged his passion for education and the environment with his lifelong spoken word ability to create works of art that inform, entertain and inspire. Cunningham serves as coordinator of the Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere program, which provides online nature-focused teaching resources for educators, as well as grants for urban schools to build, revitalize and maintain their own gardens and other green infrastructure projects.
Through the use of spoken word in the video featured in the Nature Works Everywhere “Sustainable Cities” lesson plan, Cunningham is helping to advance the education program and inspire young people. Read on to learn more about his talent and his unrelenting dedication to environmental issues.
Q and A
What does The Nature Conservancy mean to you?The Nature Conservancy means encouraging all people to care about the planet they live on, by any means possible. Everyone has a different relationship with this planet, but no one is without one. That means everyone can inspire someone else to take action – especially a unique action – to act lovingly toward the planet. One of the great things about The Nature Conservancy is its ability to cultivate ambassadors to inspire and reach people far and wide.
How did you first get interested in spoken word? Why do you choose to express yourself through spoken word?As a native of the upper west side of Harlem, the neighborhood where I grew up is less than a mile from where hip-hop began – the South Bronx. Hip-hop, as a culture, was the basis for my interest in spoken word. This interest was nurtured by writing and performing. Whenever the opportunity presented itself in school, I could be found writing a story or poem. I also grew up participating in step dancing, modern dance and chorus singing. It was not until I took theater classes for two years in high school that I considered bringing my own writing to the stage and performing it, as the theater program intensely developed my stage presence. I quickly learned the feeling and rush of impacting others with the sentiments and ideologies that one presents through the spoken word.
When did you first merge your passion for environmental conservation with your spoken word ability? What inspired you to do so?In 2014, when I was participating in The Nature Conservancy’s college internship program, I was inspired to write a poem about a luna moth. The sight of that moth was incredible. The piece describes the luna moth and its lifecycle, and it was written parallel to a personal experience. Though this was not directly related to environmental conservation, those who heard or read the poem have told me that they researched the luna moth and hope to encounter one outdoors. I was grateful that my words were able to inspire others to get outdoors and learn about nature.
What were the reactions of the people around you when you first used spoken word to talk about environmental conservation?The answer to this is so funny to me – the people around me were not surprised at all. In fact, they expected it. As passionate as I am about both the environment and spoken word, it was initially difficult to merge the two. As a naturally creative person, I constantly have ideas running through my head and have a very complex way of writing. I know that it is important for those who experience my work to connect such concepts in the moment. Throughout the years, I learned that I needed to adopt a simpler way of writing that eases people into understanding more complex concepts.
Does spoken word have a unique power to connect to certain audiences, raise greater awareness for specific causes and inspire people to make a change?I am almost certain that spoken word has the power to inspire others to take action. As a component of hip-hop culture, spoken word is also a component of the human race. Everyone can connect to it so long as both the hearer and the orator are open-minded. I truly believe that my art has inspired others to take action to conserve the environment because of the way it is presented to them. In addition to being a form of art, spoken word is usually presented to one’s own community. While my audience is not new to me, they are new to conservation efforts.
How can companies like Lowe’s help advance the efforts of The Nature Conservancy?The commitment to youth and community engagement that Lowe’s has is absolutely phenomenal. Lowe’s is fantastic in advancing our efforts, not only because of the generous financial support of our work, but also the hands-on contribution of Lowe’s employees volunteering to further our youth engagement and conservation efforts in their own communities. In a recent school garden build in northeast Washington, D.C., more than 35 Lowe’s Heroes came out to work with the school’s students and teachers. They helped to revitalize the garden space to add more green space to the community, as well as provide more garden space for environmental science education at the school.
Photo courtesy © People’s Television