For much of Lisbeth Shepherd’s life, she has been struggling with big questions.
As a child in Denmark she learned about the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as the courage of the Danish people who moved almost all their Jewish countrymen to safety in Sweden. And she asked herself, ‘Where am I called to act in the face of injustice?’
Growing up in a diverse community in Connecticut she wondered, ‘Why is there such disparity between blacks and whites?’
As a sophomore at Yale, she saw the videotape of police beating Rodney King. In her mind, Rodney King’s question echoed, “Why can’t we all get along?”
“His beating had a profound effect on me. I felt like this was a time to take action. At that moment, I knew I had to do something.”
Over the years, Lisbeth came to believe that the answer to all of the questions she grappled with was the same.
"I realized that this was about our common humanity. I had to be part of the solution to ending inequality and creating societies where all people can prosper."
That’s why she has always tried to act on her mother’s early advice to ‘do what you know is right.’
In college, Lisbeth became a tutor to students living in the impoverished neighborhood surrounding her campus.
After graduation, she lived for a decade in France, helping to create a program, Unis-Cite, designed to encourage every young person to devote a year to public service.
And in 2009 in New York City, she founded Green City Force, recognized by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the city’s ‘most innovative non-profit.’
Green City Force is an AmeriCorps program that recruits young adults from low-income backgrounds to spend six or 10 months in national service related to the environment, tackling two major issues at the same time: youth unemployment and climate change.
“I asked myself ‘How can we create a ladder for job opportunity?’”
GFC hopes to break the cycle of poverty by offering recruits training, academics and work experiences related to the clean energy economy. In doing so, it prepares them for jobs in a green economy, while encouraging them to lead socially and environmentally responsible lives. The ideal is to create a “green city” built on the principles of sustainability, as well as social, economic and environmental justice.
Since its founding, Green City Force has engaged more than 300 young people-- who are unemployed or in dead-end jobs and who live in pubic housing-- in its Clean Energy Corps program. To date, GFC teams have coated or cleaned over one million square feet of rooftops as part of the NYC Cool Roofs campaign, helped build the city’s first urban farm on public housing property and educated thousands of public housing residents about changing behaviors in their homes that can lead to energy reduction, through the Love Where You Live campaign.
Lisbeth is well on her way to her goal of “creating a national model to draw attention to the opportunity of engaging young people on the front line of these societal issues, to reveal the potential of national service not only for the service aspect but how it can be transformative for them in terms of careers and college.”
It is her answer to the big questions that anyone committed to a just society has to face.
In 2013, Lisbeth was recognized as a White House Youth Jobs+ Champion of Change. She is a graduate of Yale University and the mother of two.