Today is Earth Day, the day my father James David Holland died suddenly at the age of 55. He was a fiercely proud Southern man who wore his love for God, music, and poetry like a crown on his head, and his powerful oratory skills as a minister captivated large congregations across the United States. I am his second daughter, born only sixteen months after his first daughter Donna. My mother let it slip one day that she and my father were so fascinated by the mystery and joy of creating new life that they decided to have another child rather quickly—just to see what the next baby would look like. (Oh, the innocence of young married love.) It doesn’t surprise me at all that my younger sister Cecelia was born nine years later.
The Good Earth gave me an incredible father who had a deep appreciation for the beauty and bounty of the natural world. One of his favorite hymns to sing in church on a Sunday morning was “How Great Thou Art,” because the song’s lyrics extolled the wonders of the stars, the thunder, and the whole universe. I believed for a long time that my father’s legacy in my life is the spiritual values, music, and poetry that define my core identity. However, I have also come to understand that one of the many gifts I received from my father was the inspiration to become a faithful environmental steward. He tended the numerous hanging plants in our home in Flatbush, he composted before anyone else in Brooklyn understood what he was doing with eggshells and food scraps, he relished the sight and taste of fresh legumes and vegetables, and he could pick the perfect guava or cantaloupe. As a boy from Orlando, Florida with ancestral roots in Georgia, his favorite harvests were citrus fruits and sweet pecans. Though my mother won the argument over where they would raise their family (New York City), my father achieved many small victories by taking his car off the road and riding the subway Monday through Friday, chopping fresh turnips and snapping green beans in the kitchen, and filling our window sills with voluptuous green leaves. Though I did not enjoy the excruciatingly long car rides to visit family and friends in the South, I remember the way my father’s breathing slowed and deepened as he drove out of the clustered and cluttered city and the expanse of open land appeared.
After six years of living and leading in Northern California, I understand even more deeply how important it is to teach our children that our planet’s natural resources are not infinite and that conserving and regenerating energy are essential to our survival as a people. We are blessed to reside in a part of the country where cities are not long car rides away from groves of trees, mountains, hiking trails, small and large bodies of water, and organic farms. Here in San Francisco, there is no good excuse for living in ignorance or detachment from the Good Earth; therefore, Hamlin has made a real commitment to building environmental sustainability and stewardship into the program and our daily practices as a school community. Our work is not driven by a fiery political agenda—rather, we are compelled by a moral and educational imperative to teach children gratitude for what they have been given and to ensure that they develop respect and responsibility for our local and global environments.
Hamlin’s Eco-Council, founded in the fall of 2007 by Interim Head of School Priscilla Winn Barlow and a group of dedicated Hamlin parents and employees, has been the inspiring force behind and in front of this work. The group created the following statement of purpose that continues to guide Hamlin’s efforts today:
The mission of The Hamlin School Eco-Council is to develop responsible stewards for our planet by educating our entire community about sustainable living practices. As a group, we will identify, initiate, and implement appropriate projects, programs, and curricula to promote the greening of our campus and to expand environmental awareness.
Walk-to-School Wednesdays, waste-free snacks, recycling, composting, Middle School Green Team meetings, making a bench of garbage-stuffed “bottle-bricks” during Earth Week, guest speakers addressing water quality and plastic waste, Grade 6 science classes in the Presidio, and an improved lunch program are giving rise to even bigger ideas and program initiatives that I will be eager to share with you as the 2014-15 school year gets underway. In the meantime, please ask your daughter about today’s Sister-Family activity, her group walk to the newly renovated Lafayette Park, and the fun Earth Day activities at the park. Special thanks to Amy Conger for her impeccable organization and passionate leadership and to the entire Eco-Council for its positive energy and dedication throughout the years. We have exciting work ahead and a very strong foundation to build upon.
My father was green. It makes perfect sense to me that he returned to the earth and sky on Earth Day. Let us all remember to teach our children well and model for them a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. The Good Earth is depending on us.
Wanda M. Holland Greene is currently in her ninth year as Head of School. She is a proud New Yorker and a graduate of Columbia College, receiving her B.A. in English and Psychology. She earned her M.A. in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching from Teachers College, Columbia University. Wanda complements her work as an educator by serving independent schools and as trustee for Columbia University. She is a vocal performer (jazz, gospel, and soul), an avid reader, poet, and writer.