In 2020, Wes Gobar '24 MEM found himself the sole of person of color on a team tasked with building Evergreen Action, a political advocacy group focused on clean energy policy.
"We were forwarding jobs through the same listservs, and it was one of the formative moments where we realized the importance of a Black environmental networking approach, centering the community to build retention and recruitment," Gobar says.
The experience made Gobar realize the need for professional organizations to help young Black professionals secure green jobs and, ultimately, inform climate policy. That same year, he co-founded BlackOak Collective with clean energy sector colleagues Kiera Givens, Sarah Nesbit, and Miles Braxton, a graduate of YSE’s Financing and Deploying Clean Energy online certificate program.
Recently named a 2023 Switzer Environmental Fellow, Gobar says he hopes to connect the growing BlackOak Collective talent network to the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation.
Originally launched as a Washington, D.C.-area networking group for Black professionals, students, and advocates within the sustainability space, BlackOak has become a national organization through partnerships with leading companies and nonprofits looking to diversify their applicant pools.
"We have a diverse set of over 250 members across many environmental fields, whether it's solar and clean energy, policy, finance, public health or agriculture," Gobar says. "There are a lot of resources that I'd love to be able to share from the Switzer network with the BlackOak Collective, and also to be able to leverage the experience and the talent pipelines within BlackOak Collective to the Switzer network."
The environmental fellowship program is a core program of the Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation, a non-profit organization that invests in individuals and organizations that drive positive environmental change across various disciplines. Recipients receive a $17,000 award for academic study and leadership training and join a network of more than 700 Fellows across the United States and the world.
"I was really excited to hear Wes is going to be part of the Switzer network. They will benefit immensely from that," says Yale School of the Environment Lecturer Robert Klee '99 MEM, '04 JD, '05 PhD, who taught Gobar in Environmental Law and Policy and was himself a Switzer Fellow. "A lot of Wes' interests are in climate policy and climate justice so in thinking about a transition to a clean energy economy and ensuring it is just and equitable, we need more folks like Wes. His analytical mind combined with his advocacy is a wonderful combination."
After graduating from the University of Virginia with a bachelor's degree in history, Gobar worked as an aide for Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, where opposition to proposed pipelines from community groups exposed him to environmental justice issues and how climate justice initiatives could offer solutions.
As deputy press secretary, and later, coalition lead at Evergreen Action, Gobar focused on community advocacy for policy initiatives that helped shape the Inflation Reduction Act and the Biden administration’s climate agenda. He hopes after he graduates from YSE, he will have a more comprehensive understanding of how policy is shaped. He says he will use this knowledge, combined with his advocacy skills, to work on state-level climate justice issues back home in Virginia.
"Policy does not come from a vacuum," Gobar says. "It comes from working directly with the community. That's really important to me and drives the work I do."