Location: Washington, D.C., DC, United States
- Issues Areas:
- Environmental Justice
- Health Equity
Campus: Howard University - Washington, DC
Fellowship Class Year: 2007
- Fellow Groups:
- Leadership Academy
Blueprint: Loving Our City, Loving Ourselves
2007 Howard University Fellows hosted the first annual Loving Our City, Loving Ourselves block party and health fair. Approximately 400 people participated from Howard and the DC Pleasant Plains community, over 100 of which were tested for HIV/AIDS and participated in the community beautification project. The party included music provided by a DJ, a poetry slam, environmentally conscious arts and crafts for children, and organizational booths. Many organizations were featured in the Block Party, including Campus Climate Challenge and the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. To ensure sustainability of these efforts, advocacy and accountability training sessions were held among the participating organizations to follow up on the environmental and health issues.
Featured Fellow Spotlight
YP4: What do you stand for?
I stand for justice for the people who have never seen justice or haven’t seen it in a while. I stand for uplifting all people, especially those who’ve been disenfranchised or ignored by traditional American systems.
YP4: What inspired you to apply for the YP4 Fellowship?
I was nominated by a former YP4 fellow, Kamaria Moir. After getting tons of e-mails from YP4 telling me to apply, I figured I should just do it! And then when I was accepted, I was really honored. Kamaria had mentioned YP4 but it wasn’t till I went to the website that I realized how cool it was. I had never really heard of an opportunity like YP4, a chance to have such a network of support behind you in order to build a movement or push a cause. So many people have really great ideas, but just don’t have the support. Once YP4 came along, I felt like I had a huge family of over 200 people behind me.
YP4: What have you been involved with since the YP4 Summit?
Since the Summit, the two other Howard Fellows and I used the funding for our Blueprint [for Social Justice] to put together a block party and health fair at Howard University. We wanted to address a number of different causes that impact the community around Howard. One of those problems is the high rate of HIV and AIDS. In the D.C. area, one in 20 people are HIV positive. We decided to address this by testing people for AIDS. We also wanted to clean up the neighborhood and build solidarity with the community by encouraging everyone to come out and help. The event also provided an outlet for upcoming artists and nonprofits to showcase their work.
After the block party, I was offered a position to be a Campus Climate Challenge Coordinator with Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC). After I graduated, I started working with EJCC and have been mobilizing students of color across the country to really take a stand against racism and to take advantage of the green movement before it takes advantage of us.
YP4: What have been your major struggles and your major successes?
My major struggle has been that there are so many issues affecting the African-American community and people of color. Because of this, a lot of times when you talk about the environment, people tend to not take it that seriously. People say that they have other issues to worry about and that they need to handle the day-to-day problems before thinking about environmental issues. But what people don’t realize is that environmental issues affect your everyday issues. They don’t realize that people of color, especially low-income communities, are the most affected by environmental issues because it’s often these communities that live closest to environmental hazards, power plants and toxic sites. On top of this, all of these things increase the asthma rate and cancer rate and climate change is only going to make these things worse. And so, sometimes it is difficult for people to realize that these issues are not just some white man’s science, but are our issue and are very important to address now, because they’re happening now… not 50 years from now. I’m focused on what I can do to save myself, my people and my future children and how to make people see how important it is today. Hurricane Katrina did showcase the interlocking problems, but it’s even deeper than what we saw.
My major success was our block party. We tested over 100 people for AIDS and they all came back negative — that was really beautiful. It was a rewarding experience to find out that more people are really interested. Another major success is the interview I just had with Keith Ellison, a U.S. Representative from Minnesota’s 5th District. We are both working on advocating for Sheila Holt-Orsted around her case of environmental racism. Meeting her has been really inspiring. The opportunity to meet Sheila and so many others has made me realize how large the environmental movement is growing. It is really exciting to be a part of this…I know that change is coming.
I am also a part of the steering committee for PowerShift, the first ever national youth conference to solve the climate crisis. This opportunity came out of my YP4 fellowship when I met Billy Parish, co-founder and coordinator of the Energy Action Coalition, at the YP4 National Summit. Before meeting Billy, I didn’t even know that environmental justice was its own term. To go from not knowing anything about it in January, to where I am now, is a major success for me. I’m really taking a leadership role, and to be recognized as such, I truly feel blessed.
YP4: What do you hope to accomplish?
There are three main things: I hope that environmental justice becomes a term that more people recognize and know. I hope that I can make a positive difference in the world. Throughout my life, I hope that I can really do something. I hope that we, EJCC and the Campus Climate Challenge, can successfully mobilize an environmental justice movement among youth. There are a lot of older people involved in the movement but in order for it to really ignite; we need the youth to have an invested interest. I want people to realize that you don’t have to be a hippy to love the earth or a tree hugger to care about it. I am a regular person and I want regular people to care as much about the environment as those who have been working to protect it for years. I want people from the ‘hood, from the suburbs, from my city, to be unified, because the environmental justice movement is our generation’s civil rights movement and it is my goal to make more people see that. I hope to change the current policies so that my children won’t have to worry about whether their water is clean or whether the smog coming off a nearby power plant is going to give them asthma. I want to lower asthma and cancer rates in these affected communities by stopping poor waste management and dirty power plant sites. I also want to make the green movement accessible to all, especially those who have been the most affected by environmental hazards.
YP4: Who or what inspires you to do the work you do?
The people that inspire my work are my ancestors. When I say that, I mean both my family and the people who have fought so hard before me, the people who were willing to die just so I could live a complacent life. And that’s what inspires me: my elders. Every time someone older than me tells me that they’re proud of what I’m doing, it makes me that much stronger to keep fighting and not let them down. At times it’s a lot of pressure, but without them we would not be in our position today to make change. I lived with my grandfather for most of my life, and my senior year in high school he passed away. He was always an outspoken character and no matter what anyone said about him, he would tell them what he thought. I always respected him for that. When you’re younger, you often hate that characteristic ‘cause they’re always pushing you, but now that he’s gone I keep his spirit with me and it makes me think about what would he say if he was here — would he be proud? As long as I really try and do my best, I feel he would be proud. And so I’ll keep going and maybe I’ll make it to reach my goals; maybe one day I’ll make it to the top.
YP4: What have you learned from your experience with your block party?
I’ve learned so much… I learned that you should just do it. If you have a good idea, you will find people to support you — as long as it is for the greater good. I learned that even if you have a good idea, it means nothing unless you have a strong plan and strong support behind it. Plan your work, work your plan, whatever you do. And even more so, I’ve also learned to have confidence that things will come and things will work out. If you are optimistic, people are more likely to work with you. I’ve realized how important confidence is. I’ve also learned through YP4 the power and benefits of networking yourself and your idea.
YP4: Can you talk a little about your work with the EJCC and how this connects to your involvement in the upcoming PowerShift conference?
I actually started planning PowerShift as a student. While I was still at Howard, I got nominated to the steering committee. In between this period, I also got hired on to be the campaign coordinator for the Climate Challenge. EJCC is a coalition partner for Energy Action so my work naturally overlapped. At times it feels like, okay, here I am. I’m the black girl that does climate change work and there’s not as many of me around. Sometimes it feels like another top layer of stress. I really want to see more people that look like me in positions like this. I feel blessed to be here but I also feel like there are so many great people out there who could be doing just as well, if not better than me, that aren’t here. As a member of these organizations, I really feel it is important to at least give students of color the opportunity to find out about this work and the role they could play. I think this conference gives us an opportunity to really move with environmental justice and gives students from around the country a chance to see what is happening. I am the chair of the D.C. March, where were doing toxic tours of the D.C. and Maryland areas. I think this will be a good chance to show people real examples of environmental issues in the area and hope that people will be able to relate it back to their own areas. We are also working with locals so that students at the conference can really hear the experiences of those people most affected and connect with people who can answer their questions directly.
YP4: How can students on other campuses whoare interested in similar issueslearn from your experience and take action? Do you have advice or resources to share?
If students are interested in starting a campus climate group, they can definitely contact me or visit our website, which is www.ejcc.org, [in addition to] www.climatechallenge.org and www.powershift07.org.
If students of color want to get more involved, I ask them to PLEASE contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always available to hear what’s going on in your area and help students begin to make change.
EJCC also gives support to bring speakers to your campus and gain access to information in a variety of outlets. If anyone needs help, we are here and we are always working to expand this movement.