Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement, passed away yesterday, but what did not pass away were the 40 million trees in Africa rooted on her inspiration.

Since I first opened her Unbowed Autobiography, I wanted to meet Dr. Wangari. Unbelievably, somehow she “met” me first, on one of the happiest humblings of my life. This is the brief story of the humbling…

Some friends and I cofounded 123s (One to Trees), a nonprofit to fund grants to teachers with ecological education projects. Peris Siamanta, a Kenyan friend, applied and got a grant for the Club123s, a Science & Health program in Kimana, Kenya; in the meantime, I was moving to Brattleboro, Vermont, where my wife enrolled at SIT, a grad school program to which Wangari served as honorary board member. Maybe we would finally meet Wangari in VT…

We never did. But, teacher Peris emailed us from Kenya, saying she got a letter from an organization wanting to plant 500 trees in partnership with her Club123s project. We asked Peris “which organization was that”, so we could thank them properly. She said, why, the Green Belt Movement… the nonprofit founded by Wangari.

That’s how, spiritually, I got to plant 500 trees with Wangari — and I shall be forever humbled by this.

Tutaonana baadaye, Mama.

UPROOTED SONNET FOR WANGARI



You knew that trees were made of women.
You knew that Kenya was made of trees
bound to be replanted, your literal feet a walking
unbowed baobab.


You (noble) gave birth (& right livelihood)
to a belt — not a slum wall not chastity
mutilation belt — a green roaring belt you were
the award — not Maasai not Kikuyu –


the Black award of all blood
of the burned tree that chokes
Tumechoka, Mama.


You knew that
men — and warriors –
are made of women.