From Backyard Gardens to National Impact: How One Detroit Native is Leading the Fight Against Climate Change

Joining the inaugural class of the American Climate Corps, Za’Nyia Kelly steps onto the national stage alongside President Biden for an Earth Day milestone

Detroit, Mich, April 23, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In a speech delivered ahead of an appearance by President Joe Biden, Detroit native, AmeriCorps member and environmental champion, Za’Nyia Kelly, shared her inspiring journey from a youth concerned about healthy food access and reliable public transportation in her hometown to a proud member of the inaugural cohort of the American Climate Corps – a groundbreaking initiative that will put more than 20,000 young Americans to work fighting the impacts of climate change today while gaining the skills they need to join the growing clean energy and climate-resilience workforce of tomorrow. 

The President announced the launch of the American Climate Corps website along with a suite of actions at an event at Prince William Forest Park – a national park system site developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps and stewarded by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

Below are Kelly’s remarks as delivered: 

Hello, my name is Za’Nyia Kelly.  

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, as the middle child of seven. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there were no major grocery stores nearby with healthy food options. There were times where liquor stores doubled as grocery stores.  

But in elementary school, after I learned about the importance of having access to healthy foods, my mom and I started a backyard garden – I was hooked. From our little backyard oasis, I could see the impact fresh fruits and vegetables had on my family’s health. 

The high school I attended focused on aviation. In between learning to fly planes and build engines, I also learned how flying and different forms of transit contributed to climate pollution. For me, transportation was personal. 

Apart from lacking healthy food options, my entire city lacked reliable transportation. Coming from a big family, cars were expensive, so I had to rely on public transit. A 25-minute car ride to school could easily be a two-hour bus ride. One winter during 10th grade, I got second degree frostbite on all of my toes because I had to walk for miles in the snow when the bus didn’t show up. 

These experiences inspired me to combine my passions, for improving both the environment and the public transit systems as an AmeriCorps member. 

After graduating from Michigan State University last May, I now proudly serve in the Michigan Healthy Climate Corps, working at Transportation Riders United. TRU is a nonprofit dedicated to reducing pollution by improving Detroit’s and the surrounding region’s public transit systems.  

Thanks to President Biden, I’m so excited to be part of the inaugural cohort of the American Climate Corps. For young environmentalists like me, it means so much to know that we have a president who understands the importance of climate change, clean energy and climate justice. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m now honored to introduce to you the President of the United States, Joe Biden. 

The American Climate Corps underscores the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to addressing climate change, promoting clean energy and advancing environmental justice. As a member of the inaugural cohort, Kelly embodies the spirit of young leadership and dedication to creating lasting positive change in the face of climate change.


The American Climate Corps is an historic initiative dedicated to mobilizing a diverse workforce to confront the climate crisis and tackle environmental injustice. Through collective action, hands-on projects, mentorship and training, the ACC empowers individuals to drive impactful change across communities nationwide while giving members a career pathway to clean energy jobs in the private and public sector. 

To learn more and apply to the American Climate Corps visit

AmeriCorps, the federal agency for national service and volunteerism, provides opportunities for Americans to serve their country domestically, address the nation’s most pressing challenges, improve lives and communities, and strengthen civic engagement. Each year, the agency places more than 200,000 AmeriCorps members and AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers in intensive service roles; and empowers millions more to serve as long-term, short-term, or one-time volunteers. Learn more at

AmeriCorps offers opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds to be a part of the national service community, grow personally and professionally, and receive benefits for their service. Learn how to get involved at


Za’Nyia Kelly giving remarks for Earth Day

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