Change Maker Series: Lawrence from Green City Force

From: JUNE 9, 2014 
Change is happening everywhere. Next time you’re walking down the street in NYC take a second to look up! You never know what’s going on above your head.

For this installation of the Change Maker Series I talked to Lawrence from Green City Force. Lawrence started several years ago as a member of GCF’s green jobs training training program. 

Today he’s a GCF team leader. Lawrence and his team recently helped us complete two more white roofs on the Lower East Side.

According to Lawrence, the mission and vision of GCF is to break the cycle of poverty, preparing disconnected urban young adults from NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) to succeed in college or the career of their choice by engaging them in national service and  job experiences related to clean energy economy. He told us that the training program, “allows Green City Force to encourage these young great minds to lead socially and environmentally responsible lives.”

This is what Lawrence told me about his life before the green jobs training program.

In 1997 I was sentenced under the New York Rockefeller Drug Laws to serve 62 1/2 years to life in State prison.  After countless appeals and reforms in the law… nearly 14 years later I was released on my birthday December 21, 2009.  I immediately was introduced to the Osborne Association in the Bronx.  I went through a rigorous Green Career training.  I had stood out among the other participants and I had gained a huge positive support team.  An opening came up in Green City Force and Mrs. Shepherd, Erika and Lucian Cohen [co-founders of GCF] decided collectively to give me a shot.  I’ve been with Green City Force since May 2010.  Mrs. Shepherd believed in me and my mission is to not let her down by any means.  I’m grateful for this privilege to be given a second chance at life.

Lawrence answers my questions and gives WRP his take on GCF’s work below.

Tell me about your experience with GCF.

Green City Force’s culture is designed to create powerful work ethic in everyone.  The white roof project is a beautiful way for inner city youths to see how awesome the city really is.  Each roof top has its own story.  The view from these roof tops are breath taking.  Case in point – when I had the privilege to do the Tanio Towers in Harlem.  4 towers 40 stories up leading a team of GCF Corps Members, volunteers from Google, and NYC service volunteers. Some Corps Members had a life changing experience on that day. I know I had one. My vision of the world a few years before this day was restricted to concrete and steel.  On that day my vision went as far as my eyes could see.  A moment of true freedom and a moment I will never forget in my life. Most of these young great minds who live in public housing have vision that is restricted only to public housing.  GCF is the tool to get them to see further beyond the reddish concrete and steel that surrounds the neighborhood they live in. 


Besides the opportunity for a transformative experience, why do you think GFC included white roofing in their green jobs training program.

White Roofing (Cool Roofs) was an amazing way to teach so many transferable skills from leadership and work ethic to building science while engaging a forgotten target population in fighting climate change.

How has your experience been as a GCF team leader?

My time here has been incredible and an amazing ride.  Each year we faced challenges as a result of changes in existing polices and unexpected occurrences with Corps Members. Through all of that we were able to prevail by planning for the obvious and managing the unexpected. 

Do you think GCF trainees will do more white roof coating in the next couple of years?

They’ll probably get some time to do so with your organization or on a personal level as the white roofing policies expand to all existing roof tops in the city.

What are the best and worst parts of being a GCF team leader?

Watching how the Corps Members evolve into a more marketable employment brand at the end of their 6 months tenure as a GCF Corps Member. [These are] the best moments. The worst moments as a team leader are when you lose a Corps Member as a result of the negative influence of the mean streets of New York City.  You have to learn how to emotionally detach your self from situations that can stunt the growth of the remaining Corps Members.

Do you think a similar program could work in other cities?

Certainly, I would love to travel to other cities to help them implement a dynamic program like ours.  We mix national service, workforce development and academics in our organization.  Pushing the envelope to close the disparity margin of the urban disenfranchised young adults compared to their counter parts.  The Mayor of Philly believes our “Mission and Vision” is what his city needs.  He’s working closely with Green City Force to create a similar GCF program in his city.

What could we do to help this program grow and continue? What could city policy makers do?

Continue to partner up with us on some of your projects. Definitely we can get the support of the policy makers to create more paid internships in programs like ours.  As the city and other communities engage in green initiatives similar to what we’re dong all over the city and beyond.



How do you lift so much coating!?!

I wanted to be remembered as the greatest “White Roofer/Cool Roofer” ever.  Carrying 4 or more buckets was always a motivational tool that I used to get the young Corps Members ready to go hard on a project.  I bring the power, action packed attitude to every project and they love it!  It is easy maybe one day I’ll get the video for a White Roof workout regime?  :) 


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