Celebrating Black Achievement at GRID: Adewale OgunBadejo

GRID is honoring Black History Month and Black Futures Month by celebrating Black Achievement at GRID -- in February and all year. Follow along as we introduce GRID staff members whose work and influences are driving our vision of a just energy future.

Meet Adewale OgunBadejo, Workforce Development Manager at GRID Alternatives Greater Los Angeles (GLA). Adewale has led the GLA workforce development program through incredible growth, ensuring that our training programs are equitable and inclusive to anyone who wants to learn more about clean energy careers.


How did you come to GRID?

At the time, I was working at Cal State University Dominguez Hills for an organization called CAAPEI or the California African American Political & Economic Institute. CAAPEI, now named Mervyn M. Dymally African American Political & Economic Institute, was born as a think tank, tied to a California State University, to study the history of African American elected officials, business, and community leaders.  

Around 2008, I had an uncle who told me to look into solar energy, which I knew nothing about, and I was fortunate enough to take a trip with him to Vietnam to study a solar project he was working on. I figured anything that can get me to Vietnam, I needed to explore further. When I returned to Los Angeles, I immediately looked into solar programs and found out about Los Angeles Trade Technical College, which had one of the first renewable energy degree programs in the country. I enrolled at LAATC in 2008 and completed a certificate by the end of 2009. Simultaneously, I was looking for how to get experience as an installer and stumbled upon an interesting organization called GRID Alternatives. I signed up for an orientation (at the time, GRID was so small that I had to do an orientation in San Diego and my first install in Oakland). Needless to say, I fell in love with the people and what the organization embodied. I had a long history of working and serving in local communities and what GRID was doing was innovative but closely aligned with the kind of work I was interested in. 

In 2010 a SolarCorps position for a volunteer coordinator opened in the LA office, one of three or four offices at the time and I threw my name in the hat to see if it would stick. I was given the opportunity of a lifetime by then Regional Director Susie Chang and humbly accepted. 

I must say, I wanted to be an installer in hopes of starting my own company one day...

What is your favorite part of what you do at GRID?

First I would like to say that GRID has been extremely integral in my personal and professional growth over the last ten years. I have never worked for an organization that operates with as much intention and critical thought as GRID. They have provided me with a platform and helped me to develop into a leader over the years in ways that I would have never imagined when I first joined the organization. I have seen the lives of myself and so many others both internally and externally be forever changed. I always like to give thanks and credit to Erica and Tim for their vision and the creation of this organization. 

My favorite part is being a part of the change that I want to see. When I was younger, it was hard to see how things could actually change, I was so frustrated by the way my people and other people as a whole were treated in American society and it was hard to believe in the goodness of humanity. Getting to work in local communities and creating viable solutions that give people opportunities and inspire hope keeps me going. Every year there is a new challenge and a new opportunity. I have worked with some really great people over the last 10 years and we have done some really great things. Even internally, when I started at GRID there were about 40 employees total and today there are over 350! So many people have benefitted and become a part of this vision, so many have been able to make a difference in their local communities. This is meaningful work that allows you to go to sleep at night knowing you are doing good for the community. 

Who is a current Black history-maker that people should know about, or has influenced your work?

My mother has been a teacher since before I was born. I am one of three biological children, but she has hundreds of children across the world. She has dedicated her life to improving and educating those who could most benefit, teaching African and African American studies as well as English Literature. She is my superhero. She took us around the world using her mind and education as the key to unlock access and show us a world of possibilities. She always told me to do what I loved and the money would follow. She was my first black history teacher and the first one to take me to Africa. She was born in Queens, New York in an era where black people fought hard for liberation using their bodies, minds, and souls on all fronts and her main contribution was through writing and education. She was the first from my direct family to go to a four-year college and attained her Undergrad from USC and her Master’s degree and Ph.D. from UCLA.

The other Black History maker that I am heavily influenced by is Dr. John Henrik Clarke. Dr. Clarke is a Pan-Africanist writer, historian, professor, and pioneer in creating Africana studies and professional institutions in academia starting in the late 1960s. His command, understanding and teaching of the history of African people throughout the world are beyond comprehension. I could read, watch or listen to him speak all day, any day. 

What’s one thing GRID is working on now that you’re really excited to see happen this year?

Surviving the pandemic has been an experience, but it has taught us collective resilience and pushed us to be more innovative than ever before. Locally at GRID GLA, I am very happy to see all of the affordable housing projects coming online that our multi-family team has been working so hard on; it will greatly increase our ability to serve families and provide more training this year. 

At the national level I am glad to see GRID’s continued integration and commitment to EID work, not just separate but as a direct integration into our everyday work. I believe that the intentionality of our work is what makes our organization so unique and separates us from the others. Amongst all of the non-profits I work with locally, I can confidently say that none have done as much in the EID space and made it a requirement of their organization as GRID has. GRID made this commitment over five years ago and I have only seen it grow, they have never wavered. 

What is your vision for an environmentally just future?

This is a heavy question. 

I have family in Nigeria, West Africa and I have feelings about the need for an environmentally just future there as well. Speaking primarily from a perspective of what it means here in the US, an environmentally just future is one where energy is democratized, decentralized as much as possible, and taken out of the hands of the elite; while being more equitably distributed amongst the masses. The availability of energy and its uses must move beyond just being a commodity to becoming a tool for nation-building where people thrive and build healthy communities. It will be criminal if local communities do not have access to the opportunities and benefits resulting from the global clean energy transition and the massive wealth being amassed from this global investment. We must continue to move away from the use of dirty sources of energy and the accompanying power generating facilities that are too often sited in local communities where too often income is limited and the residents are primarily people of color. As the clean energy economy is built out local communities must not just realize the environmental but just as much realize the economic benefits of this massive clean energy infrastructure redevelopment. At present, there is a transfer of wealth taking place that has not been seen since the industrial revolution and if there is no intentionality about how the resources are distributed, racial and economic disparities will continue to persist as they have since the founding of this country. Therefore, I see this as a much bigger conversation and undertaking that reaches beyond what an environmentally just future is but rather extends to conversations around economic opportunity and other pressing societal matters. We have the chance to move the needle and get some things right. We can address some of the errors and atrocities of the past but it won’t just happen, we have to do the work.