Each year the Bay Nature Institute board and staff select remarkable individuals to receive a Local Hero Award in recognition of outstanding work on behalf of the natural world of the San Francisco Bay Area. The 2022 recipients will be celebrated during the 12th annual Bay Nature Local Hero Awards event from 2 to 5 p.m. at the David Brower Center in Berkeley on March 27. Please join the festivities in person or virtually!
Solwazi Allah is a self-proclaimed Bay Area kid of nature. He grew up in Oakland, attended the Green Academy at Berkeley High, and majored in environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz. “I’ve been a kind of nature baby,” says Allah. “My parents would take me on hikes even before I could walk.” And his grandfather started teaching him to fish when Allah was only three. “All of those experiences introduced me to the beauty of nature,” Allah wrote in an email. “As I grew up and found my own voice and power, I realized my desire, and the need, to protect nature.”
Since 2019, Allah has put that desire into action with Urban Tilth, a Richmond-based nonprofit focused on urban agriculture, equitable food systems, and watershed restoration. First an apprentice with the Watersheds Basins of Relations Program, he became crew manager of the watersheds project just a few short years later. The team helps care for Wildcat Creek, whose headwaters begin in Tilden Regional Park and eventually thread through Richmond to empty into San Pablo Bay.
Allah recalls the team scoping out a section of the creek that was trashed—full of tires, paint cans, plastic bags, and strollers. “It was disappointing, but it was motivating at the same time,” he says. “In that moment, I felt really connected to this area, and the Richmond community, and the Richmond environment. And felt like I had some power, some ability to change that by being involved with the watershed crew.”
The health of the plants, animals, water, and community are personal to Allah. Urban Tilth program manager, Nathan Bickart, recounts that when a salmon found its way to Cerrito Creek, where it couldn’t thrive, Allah created a video and talked to the staff and the public about the predicament. He emphasized the exceptional rains that had brought enough water for a coho salmon to swim up a normally small creek and explained why the confused fish wasn’t likely to survive if it stayed there. Bickart says it’s “at the heart of what makes Solwazi awesome,” commending his ability to “tell the story of these spaces and make choices that are often tricky and difficult to figure out.” The City of Albany ultimately scooped up the fish and returned it to the Bay.
Of late, Allah is most proud of Urban Tilth’s plant installations at Unity Park in Richmond. “They’ve transformed that park into a safe, beautiful space,” he says. “We’re standing for the people and saying that we deserve healthy food, fresh air, clean water, open land, and green spaces.”