Alicia White proves just how cool it is to care about your community

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

Say her name; know her story. We ask phenomenal women to narrate the story of their lives in five chapters. They name each chapter and explain why each chapter is named the way it is, allowing them to share their story in their own words, and showcase their milestones, hardships, and decisions along the way.

If you thought you were a good person before, you may reconsider after hearing the story of Alicia White.

Alicia grew up in Jamaica, Queens, just outside of New York City. Her younger days were filled with volunteering in her community, spending quality bonding time with her family, and playing tennis with her dad. Feel guilty yet about how you spent your childhood? Alicia also suffered from scoliosis, which forced her in and out of the hospital while struggling to keep up in school. Remember complaining about learning the Pythagorean theorem? Well Alicia had to learn that a2 + b2 = c2 while also relearning how to WALK. You’re welcome for the refresher math lesson as well as for the brief reality check on privilege.

For many kids in Alicia’s neighbourhood, the goal was to gtfo of Queens as quickly as they could. For her though, the future wasn’t always as clear.

Alicia White is the Founder and President of Project Petals, a non-profit organization aimed at bringing awareness to social and environmental justice issues within communities in need. Alicia and Project Petals have been honoured by organizations like the NBA, the Discovery Channel, the New York Yankees, and the New York City Mayor’s Office for the work they do to empower communities at the local level.

Scoliosis obviously took a major toll on her life and her body, and Alicia’s sheer will power got her through many of the physical battles that she faced as a young girl. Simultaneously, she discovered that her health would never improve if she didn’t force her body to rest - something that was unnatural for the tenacious young girl who, by nature, just wanted to power through any and all adversity.

“Sometimes, stepping back can set you up for something major in your life.”

Part of her physical healing process involved journalling, spending time in nature, and exploring the beauty of the outdoors that Queens had to offer. Yes, despite what Alicia Keys and Jay-Z have led us to believe, New York is far more than just a concrete jungle where dreams are made of. In fact, the city’s green spaces is where Alicia White began to plant the seeds of her future as a community leader and local changemaker.

She became the first person in her family to graduate from college; a remarkable achievement considering the hurdles that she faced at such a young age. But like so many scorned graduates, Alicia didn’t realize that spending tens of thousands of dollars on a degree wouldn’t guarantee her much more than a piece of paper (that doesn’t even come framed might I add - a fact that years later, I am still miffed about).

Alicia may have had no job offers after college, but she also had no time for the bullshit of waiting around. She knew she wanted to work in the not-for-profit sector in order to make a social impact, and soon realized that what she was most passionate about was her hometown itself.

Inspired by the outdoor spaces of Queens, Alicia began developing a vision for what she knew her beloved neighborhood could be. She saw opportunities for revitalization and beautification all over the city and knew that restoring these public spaces would only serve to improve the quality of life for the people and places that she held closest to her heart. I can’t help but imagine what might have come of my hometown if more people wanted to give back to it the way Alicia did for Queens. There would probably be larger greenspaces, more sustainably planned public areas, and a slimmer socio-economic divide, but there would also be far fewer amateur mixtapes on SoundCloud… So I’m torn.

“I spent a long time bringing the idea to reality, but I had to turn it into something real and tangible”.

It started off as a single project that she called Project Petals, but grew so quickly that she soon turned it into a full-blown organization. She had no idea how to file startup paperwork, create a website, or do most of the bootstrapping work required to get an organization off the ground. But like all fenoms, she taught herself. Duh.

Alicia applied for grants and fellowships and - surprise surprise - she was met with a lot of no’s.

“We’ve all dealt with rejection - but every time we get back up after failure, we’re being tenacious”.

Three years after starting Project Petals, Alicia was awarded by the New York City Mayor’s Office for her work not just in Queens, but across all five boroughs. Since then, she’s been acknowledged and presented with awards by the New York Knicks and was even named Community Hero by the New York Yankees. Yay sports!!

Today, Project Petals works to shed light upon issues of environmental sustainability that reinforce socio-economic divides and inhibit the growth and success of under-served communities. Its youth education programs empower kids with knowledge and confidence that will help them prepare for real world jobs and life in general which, based on most of the 20 and 30-somethings that I know, sounds like prep work that we could all use a little bit more of.

Sorry if I made you feel shitty about yourself at the beginning there; that wasn’t my intention.

Alicia’s story is just a much-needed reminder that we all can all be actively seeking out ways to make our own unique positive impact on the world. It’s no longer cute to be the person who doesn’t give a fuck about anything. Pick a cause and start small. Find something you’re passionate about, dedicate small chunks of time to it, and as long as it’s not bitcoin or a sketchy pyramid scheme, you will find ways to make the world around you a better place.

One more piece of advice from Alicia: “you’re going to be better than you even know, so don’t rush! Slow down, you’ll get there”.

Find out more about Alicia’s story and Project Petals in her video above!

Written by: Hannah Geiser & Michelle Kwok

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