Richie Havens, the folk singer who grew up a street kid in Brooklyn and later founded an East Coast-based environmental education program for urban children, on Wednesday planted the seeds for a West Coast branch of his Natural Guard.
At a Glendora press conference attended by Havens, U.S. Forest Service officials and environmental educators, the Angeles National Forest was singled out as one of the first places the seeds will probably grow here.
“You give kids something to do, and there is no gang, there (are) no street-corner drugs,” the 49-year-old Havens said at the Mt. Baldy Ranger District office of the Angeles Forest. “Under the guise of the environment, geography can be taught, sciences and humanities can be taught, and the need to get rid of poverty, homeless and drugs can be taught.”
“I don’t think that it’s a far-fetched idea,” added the deep-voiced singer, who is best known for his performance at the 1969 Woodstock music festival.
Havens earlier this year started the Natural Guard as an adjunct to his 14-year-old Northwind Undersea Institute, a Bronx-based organization that offers marine education and environmental programs to 30,000 New York schoolchildren.
So far, he has fostered the start of Natural Guard chapters in New Haven, Conn., and Baltimore, and one is in the works in Washington, D.C. Havens said his organization provides educational materials and offers guidance and financial support to get chapters started.
“Right now we’re still at the brainstorming stage,” said Don Stikkers, district ranger of the Angeles Forest’s Mt. Baldy district. Specifics of how the Natural Guard might work in Los Angeles have not been worked out. But Forest Service officials and educators such as Harold C. Haizlip of the Education Consortium of Central Los Angeles said they can easily foresee linking Angeles educational programs with the Natural Guard.
Under their plans, the Angeles Forest would serve as a field laboratory for Natural Guard groups in communities and schools. If pilot programs work, the Forest Service officials said, they hope to copy it at the 155 other national forests throughout the country, particularly ones near urban centers.
Making a connection with gang members or gang wanna-bes is not as difficult as it might seem, said Havens, who himself escaped the 1950s gang life of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant. Nor, he said, is it hard to make a connection between the street-corner environment of vacant lots and the majesty of 10,000-foot mountain peaks an hour from downtown Los Angeles.
“The idea of the Natural Guard is to start in your own community,” he said. The goal is “to bring up a generation with real information about the environment, for the first time in history.”