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February is Black History Month. To honor and celebrate, we’re highlighting four local leaders who are creating restorative change for the environment and their communities.

Michael Kelley


Drew Hines

Missouri Department of Conservation

Jalen Holloway

Heartland Conservation Alliance

Kechia Smith

Bridging The Gap

Q: When it comes to environmental issues in the KC region, what are you excited about?

Michael: I’m most excited to see more sidewalks, trails, and other multimodal developments in the area. Transportation is our region’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, and expanding multimodal options is a key way that we can work to address that challenge.

Drew: I’m excited about many things. MOHives Apiary, UMKC Neighborhood Stewardship Program launching this Summer ’24, and Monarch Garden. But what I am most excited about is the Green workforce development program being ran by Build Trybe. I am really excited about our youth and young adults getting in the Green-tech field at the grassroots. I believe this is another industry revolution about to happen e.g. Tech, automotive, agriculture. Training up a new workforce that understands and cares about the environment is key to furthering conservation.

Jalen: At the Heartland Conservation Alliance (HCA), I have seen a high amount of invasive honeysuckle plants during our guided events. I am excited about the opportunity to continue talking about the invasive honeysuckle, and facilitating awareness about invasive plants. I am also excited to hear from the KC community about environmental issues that they would like for us to talk about. HCA’s guided events are part of our new Blue River Nature Guide program!


Q: What or whom inspires you to do the work you do?

Michael: In everything I do, I am inspired to do so by my daughters. They deserve a better world than the one my generation inherited, and I’m committed to making that happen through the work I do. I’m also fortunate to have guidance from contemporary Black professionals in the transportation space. That includes Charles T. Brown, Tamika Butler, Veronica O. Davis, and Jay Pitter to name a few

Drew: People inspire me to do my work. Our job, as human being is to pass on information to others and the next generations to keep our way of living relevant. In conservation, we can pass on information to others about landscaping, Ecological Restoration, Tree Care and Green infrastructure training. These are just a few of many methods that can be learned in conservation to help remediate at scale to help the environment.


Q: Anything else you want us to know about you or the work you do?

Michael: My work involves advocating for the policies, plans, and projects that make it safer and easier for people to walk, roll, bike, and use public transit. There is an inherent equity component to that work because how our transportation system is built (and who deals with the environmental impacts from that system) is not an accident. Black people often bear the brunt of those and other harms (traffic fatalities, excessive traffic stops from police, poor health outcomes from emissions and tire particulate). When I advocate, I do so knowing those harms exist, but also knowing we have the choice to create something better for the people who need it most

Drew: I am just a lover of nature and want to help others to respect the land and give back to society as a whole. I want to set the example for others who come from where I come from and look like me.