I Came to This By Accident…I Engage in it By Necessity.

An interview with Sheryll Durrant

This was a hard interview to conduct. After all, I am married to the  interviewee. I am intimately familiar with her views and her passions. But I worked on staying objective (ha!)

The purpose of this article is to summarize her intent to work toward a MA in Sustainable Business and Communities at Goddard College in Vermont.

My process is simple: have a few over arching questions, put the recorder in the middle of the table, and let the subject talk. If I keep my mouth shut, there is a good chance I will get some good stuff.

This interview is to help launch Sheryll’s new blog. “I Come to this by accident… I engage in it by necessity.” The original title was going to be The Accidental Environmentalist, but that name seems to be taken. The film and book The Accidental Tourist seems to have made this possible. So in her disappointment, I took her own words, and made them the title for a new blog about Sheryll’s new found activism in sustainability.

“My goal is to use myself as an example to others as to how you can transform your life from being a mainstream American consumer to one where you are more self conscious of your environment. To teach others how to live in a sustainable way through the way I work. The way I live. In the way I choose to buy anything from food to clothing. The way I look at the environment around me and how I impact it.”

Q: Can you give an example?

“For instance, I feel I should engage in work around my community. And I should not seek a job that would take me away from that community. And my job should be one that helps to enhance that community. My skill should be employed to help better my immediate environment.

Second, it is good to support enterprises within my community like the local market, my food coop, or the dressmaker who lives down the road or the coffee shop where we are having this conversation.

Personally, I feel the need to live more simply and not engage in the mass consumerist culture that most Americans are swept up in. I do not need an expensive flat screen television or a new car. I do not need to buy foods with a lot of packaging which just help to pollute the planet. I am interested in being aware of how I live and the impact my actions have on the world around me.”

“My own home is sparsely furnished. I think some people are shocked at the simplicity. Our sofa is old, but we cover it with a nice cover because it is still a good couch. We surround ourselves with art that we love and create.  We prefer a creative environment as opposed to a materialistic one. It is more about creating a calm and gentle surrounding that makes people feel comfortable. Not impress them with our acquisitions. I recognize that there are those in the movement who live even simpler than we do, but I see it as a work-in-progress. The goal is to live in unison with the world around us with as little impact as possible.”

Q: How did this all start for you?

“When I first came to this country, my goals were to get a degree, work in a corporation. Make a lot of money and have a beautiful apartment and buy expensive clothes. I was more interested in living the way most Americans aspire to.

My perspective began to change when I came into contact with people who expressed this sustainable philosophy, which I feel started at the Park Slope Food Coop. At first I was resistant to it because my first reaction to many of the people who were moving in this direction, was that they were crazy. But then I began to understand that they had a level of activism and beliefs that they adhered to. And if that is what is making them crazy, then it is better for the world.

It initiated a question about where my food comes from and what is in my food. So this became an inquiry about how do I keep myself healthy, which leads to how do I keep my home and community healthy? As my understanding broadened I became interested in how to conserve energy, where does my garbage go, what do I clean my home with? Eventually you are part of a dialogue about how to sustain life on the planet.”

Q: How do you take action?

“By involving myself with the people who are already doing things. Sustainability as an industry is very new. And unfortunately, we still have a high regard for credentials. So I need to apply myself to that. But the process of learning is continuous.

I have been involved with Sustainable Flatbush for the past 2 years. A grassroots organization that is actually engaged actualisation. They engage in community and neighborhood initiatives such as urban gardening and farming which includes composting; energy solutions by promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy options; living streets by advocating streets as communal spaces where pedestrians, motorists and cyclists share and have equal access to the road; zero waste that explores ways to reuse our garbage through reuse, composting and recycling. In essence their goal is to establish and promote sustainable living through our community.”

Q: As a parent founder of the Brooklyn Free School, how do you see the role of Democratic Education in relation to your activities with sustainability?

“Issues of sustainability cannot be divorced from issues of social justice. In order for social justice to prevail, you need to have true democracy. The Brooklyn Free School embodies true democracy. Everybody has a say in their own environment, with no discrimination toward age, gender, race or social class. It is not majority rule. It is a forum where everyone gets heard. It resembles more a tribal council than our current federal structure.

It is important for us to learn how to live together. We need to go back to helping each other when we are in need. We have lost that. If someone is sick, we should help them. If someone is hungry, we need to feed them. That is what communities do. We have to move away from this consumerist mentality. As money becomes of less and less value, we need to become re-familiarized with real values. We need to stop giving away our money to corporations who do not care about us.”

Q: Who are some of the people in this movement you admire?

Van Jones and Bill McKibben are my biggest heroes. Will Allen of the Growing Power Inc. Anne Pope, who has been my mentor and the founder of Sustainable Flatbush. And many of the people I have come to call friends like Bruni Torres who is a community gardener/urban farmer/composter and Alan Berger, the director and founder of Brooklyn Free School. All the writers and subjects at YES magazine. Dr. Gabor Maté and The Zeitgeist Movement as a whole because they embody an outside-the-box kind of thinking that is needed for the new century. I admire organizations like 350.org and ioby who represent the grassroots movement in a visible way.”

Look for Sheryll’s new blog coming in September 2011.

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5 Comments on “I Came to This By Accident…I Engage in it By Necessity.”

  1. I enjoyed reading your well written your interview with Sheryll Durrant.

    In a short 2 minutes, you managed a series of questions and answers that connected the dots and managed to offer up of imformation . Most importantly, because of the straightforward manner in which Sheryll responded ..not corny , but most sincere…right from the heart..brass tacks..It made me give serious thought to how I could keep simplifying littlle by little and that change would be huge… The “ripple in the water” effect..

    Thank You for the Reminder..

    Well done and very much appreciated!

    Michelle

  2. John Webber says:

    This is why I’m a Sheryll fan.

  3. What a beautiful statement.

  4. Andi B. says:

    I love this article. I used to sit behind Sheryll in school. I still see authentic Sheryll though many years have passed and I love the evolved Sheryll I’ve been able to catch a glimpse of in our long-distance interactions. I appreciate what you have written here and think it’s even better because it is you who have written it. I am taught by it as I too aspire to be more thoughtful ….

  5. Anne Pope says:

    A wonderful interview that shows what a great thinker and activist Sheryll is. I’m very thankful to her for exposing me to the democratic education movement, and for the many thought-provoking discussions we’ve shared. I definitely count Sheryll among my heroes!


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