Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Pertula George-Redd

St. Lucia • Manager of Volunteer Programs, DC Central Kitchen

MA-SID '08

Citizen Leaders Building Stronger Communities

Already recognized by leaders for her work in the U.S., Pertula George-Redd aims to launch a nonprofit in her native St. Lucia.

Imagine Pertula George-Redd’s surprise when President Obama said her name…and then proceeded to personally welcome her as a new American citizen.

“Pertula arrived in America from St. Lucia at the age of 23, leaving behind her parents and seven siblings,” Obama said, at George-Redd’s special citizenship ceremony in March 2013. “She came here to study international development. She stayed, for over a decade now, to work at nonprofits that teach our kids about sustainable foods and how to live a healthier life by eating well — which I know Michelle is very happy about. Today, she also has the gratitude of her new nation. So, thank you so much.”

George-Redd came to Obama’s attention when she was executive director of Common Good City Farm in Washington, D.C. There she helped build urban farms and gardens and educate the community on the importance of eating healthy, local produce. “I’m very passionate about changing people’s mindset around food,” she says, “especially youth. I want them to learn how to be leaders and make healthy food choices.”

Meeting the president and first lady was exciting, but it wasn’t George-Redd’s first brush with high-profile leaders. She gave England’s Prince Charles a tour of the farm in her first year as director in 2011. In 2012, she welcomed the U.S. surgeon general to a lunch with the farm’s Summer Youth Program. The farm has even been featured on the Travel Channel show “Bizarre Foods.”

All of this celebrity treatment was nice, but what really inspires George-Redd is the idea of replicating the Common Good City Farm back in her native St. Lucia. “Where I grew up,” George-Redd says, “my food came from right outside my door — coconuts, lemons, mangoes, sheep, goats, herbs, tomatoes. We had a 5,000-square-foot piece of land. What we didn’t grow ourselves, we traded for. I loved being outdoors, connected to the land.” However, the food culture in St. Lucia has changed, George-Redd says. Farming is not done in a sustainable way in the Caribbean. And fast food and cheap processed food is taking over — the root cause of a public health crisis.

St. Lucia has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world and the second highest rate of hypertension. These worrisome trends motivated George-Redd to leave her job at the farm last December. She plans to move back to St. Lucia this year or next to launch her own nonprofit. “I’ve learned so many things at Heller,” she says. “It’s prepared me for what’s to come in St. Lucia.” When George-Redd starts her nonprofit, she knows she can rely on her longtime Heller School mentors, especially Professor Eric Olson, to help. “He’s ready,” she says. “I know he will come to St. Lucia and help me out. It’s good to know I have that support.”

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