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How the Cleveland Tree Coalition is making a difference: Game Changers interview with Samira Malone

As the Coalition's first director, Malone is responsible for raising awareness of the group’s efforts -- including through a lens of racial equity.

CLEVELAND — Samira Malone pinches herself every day. At the age of 27, she is the first-ever director of the Cleveland Tree Coalition, in charge of a huge initiative aiming to re-forest Cleveland’s barest neighborhoods.

"We are experiencing a major decline in our current tree canopy in the city of Cleveland," Malone told 3News anchor Dave Chudowsky in a recent interview. "There's something that needs to be done about it."

Cleveland was once known as the Forest City for its lush tree cover that remained during the city’s early industrial boom in the mid 19th century. But today, the city’s tree canopy stands at just 18 percent. A number that experts say is concerning.

"So there has to be a lot of work, a lot of collaborative work done. A lot of fundraising, a lot of advocacy and platform elevation to be able to hit the goal of 30% tree canopy by 2040," Malone explained. "[That goal] is what the Cleveland Tree Plan outlines for the city of Cleveland, which is what the coalition is working towards accomplishing."

The coalition is a collaborative group of public, private and community stakeholders that have partnered with the city of Cleveland to rebuild our urban forest. Before stepping into this role, Malone worked as Neighborhood Planning Manager with coalition member MidTown Cleveland.

Credit: Cleveland Tree Coalition

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"I'm really excited within my role to be able to build that relationship with this really new and amazing administration," Malone said of working with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb and his staff. "It's really a catalyst moment for us to do this work because there in my lifetime, at least, I haven't seen this much conversation around growing tree canopy."

As director, it’s Malone's job to raise awareness of the group’s efforts -- including through a lens of racial equity.

"What's very important to realize is that where we are seeing a degradation across the city, across the region in tree canopy," Malone said. "It's really, really, really heightened in Black and Brown neighborhoods."

Neighborhoods like Central, where she grew up, and St. Clair-Superior where she now lives.

"So not only do I do the work, but I live in the work every day. And you know, as a kid walking down 55th, I remember how undesirable it felt because of the lack of tree canopy, how hot it was," Malone recalled. "Because again, not having a healthy tree canopy also exacerbates those urban heat island effects that we are feeling on a day to day basis in the city of Cleveland. It could be anywhere from five to 10 degrees hotter than in the surrounding suburbs."

Trying to make a difference is just in her blood. Malone comes from a long line of teachers and civil and public servants. She says working with the earth and the environment honors her ancestors. It's also a full-circle moment for her to step into this role.

"I've always loved trees. I was always a kid that was riding their bike spending a lot of time outside," she said. "My mom was always a huge proponent of the outdoors. We spent a lot of time at Shaker Lakes at the Metro Parks. So I always had a healthy love for outdoors. I always had a healthy love for trees."

Credit: Samira Malone

And now, just days away from turning 28 – she understands her role as a leader in this city.

"I'm excited and honored to be able to do the work -- and not only do it, but be the first person to do it. And so even though that, you know, of course puts in a little bit of pressure on you, I love the pressure... I have a very robust goal to work towards with some really amazing partners."

If you're interested in learning more or getting involved, visit ClevelandTrees.org/Take-Action.

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Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous edition of Game Changers on July 18, 2022.

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