There are a lot of opportunities to attend events and go to exhibits in urban areas that would never be available to rural kids. However, one thing rural kids trump urban children on is the availability of trees—for climbing, tree houses, better air, and natural beauty. Kemba Shakur was a lover of trees growing up, and when she moved to a new section of Oakland in 1994, she realized trees could be the key to both making a neighborhood look respectable and helping at-risk youth.

The result was Urban Releaf, a nonprofit organization who has been pushing for money from people in the Oakland community as well as outside the community to plant trees. In her spare time, she teaches how to maintain trees to at-risk teens. The project so far has brought about 15,000 trees for the community, many of them planted by Shakur’s group. People recently caught up with the woman to ask her why she goes to all of the trouble to motivate people in her community to plant trees. Shakur’s answer spoke about the state of the neighborhood before her initiative.
" (There was) block after block of concrete. The prison grounds looked better."

Now, the 49-year-old has brought elms and sycamores into the neighborhood. It takes a strong vision and an even stronger personality to accomplish work like Urban Releaf does, and Shakur has proven to be an inspiration and an icon—known simply as “The Tree Lady”—in her small community.

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