Shining light on the advocacy and sustainability work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) leaders working to make positive change in their respective communities. As part of our commitment to equity and allyship, we are holding an ongoing series of interviews with individuals and sharing their stories to spread awareness.
For this story, we highlight Doreen Abubakar, a New Haven native, a mother, a grandmother, and urban environmentalist. She is the founder of CPEN – Community Placemaking Engagement Network.
Doreen recalls her first notable encounter with nature being in high school when she took part in a camping trip that consisted of three days hiking on the Appalachian Mountains and canoeing down the Housatonic River. Doreen describes the experience as a life-changing revelation, and recalls the anxiety she felt being swarmed by bugs plus the nausea she felt when canoeing. She says these feelings were overcome by admiration of the gorgeous scenery. This moment moved Doreen, inspiring her to expand her participation in the natural environment.
Over the years she has been influenced by those with a passion for impact and has always tried to pay that passion forward to youth. As a young person, she met and worked for Richie Havens, a folk singer and founder of an organization called the Natural Guard. It was here she developed a passion for teaching others about the environment and grew as a leader.
In 2011, Doreen founded the West River Watershed Partnership – with the objective to engage people of all backgrounds who lived around the river in New Haven. She organized what would become an annual event called the West River Water Festival. Attendees of annual festival enjoy canoe rides, bird walks, a touch tank with marine animals, and other family activities that helped connect the community to the beautiful urban watershed.
Following this, she continued building her network, mobilizing her partners to restore Newhallville, a low-income community with more than 90% of the population being people of color. They restored a blighted lot called the Mudhole into a vibrant family-friendly public space called the Learning Corridor. They also created a native plant nursery to cultivate and sell pollinator-friendly plants to build habitats in Newhallville for pollinators, beautifying the neighborhood, and building awareness and connection within an urban environment.
Doreen has a passion for creating solutions to transform common spaces into opportunities for people to thrive; this passion of hers has increased diverse representation of involvement and engagement in outdoor recreation, specifically connecting people with New Haven’s public parks.
Doreen and CPEN will soon lead an Urban Farmer training program in partnership with the University of Connecticut in April. They also plan to launch a beekeeping training program, a climate literacy program called Project GOAL, as well as the 10th anniversary of the West River Watershed Festival.
When asked about the future and advice she would give to newcomers to this work, Doreen said: “I hope the places I’m building serve as an asset for engagement and that the processes that I use become a model for effective community engagement. If you’re new to this work, get started and do it. Reach out to others with experience in this work and expand your network.”