Location: Chicago, IL, United States
- Issues Areas:
- Environmental Justice
Campus: DePaul University - Chicago, IL
Fellowship Class Year: 2010
Marisol Becerra, 2010 Fellow, created a Blueprint for Social Justice that focused on collaborating with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) to create the first environmental justice curriculum for Chicago Public Schools. The curriculum was used at one elementary school and one high school which resulted in an increase in youth engagement on their campaign to close down two of Chicago’s dirtiest coal power plants after the curriculum was implemented. In September 2012, while Marisol was working on this issue as a Senior Fellow at YP4, the campaign saw success and the plants were shut down. This victory was just a piece of her larger vision. She knew her community must continue to educate and organize towards environmental justice and sustainable development. The future of the brownfield sites, a former industrial or commercial site where future use is affected by real or perceived environmental contamination like the coal plants in Little Village, is up for grabs and Marisol is working to ensure these sites are redeveloped for her community to guarantee that the redevelopment does not lead to the gentrification of the area. Marisol sees sustainable development as a global goal that often voices of people from low-income people of color are rarely represented in UN negotiations. Therefore, Young People For supported her participation at the UNCSD Rio +20 Summit where she connected to international youth committed to changing policy abroad and at home. To further her vision, Marisol is currently pursuing her PhD at The Ohio State University on the impacts of brownfield redevelopment on gentrification of low income ethnic communities in urban cities.
Featured Fellow Spotlight
What do you stand for?
I stand for justice, justice in general whether it be economic, educational, or environmental. Everyone has the right to equal opportunity. But the one I focus on the most is environmental, because when a lot of people think of the environment, they think of saving the species or saving the trees. But in reality it’s more than that. What it means is our health, our human health.
How did you find out about YP4?
I’ve been hearing great things about YP4 since 2008. In 2008 I met Kari Fulton, a YP4 alumni, and she told me how the program helped her discover and build on what she was already doing. Like me, she felt the need to connect her struggle with other struggles. In her work she found some of the same links, similar to my work, where communities who have environmental issues also have problems with poverty and lack of access to quality education. She’s the one who first exposed me to the YP4 program and showed me how her blueprint for social justice contributed to her work.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
My greatest achievement thus far is starting up a youth group in my community called Youth Activist Organizing as Today’s Leaders (YAOTL). The group started in 2003 and is made up of high school students ages 13-18. The group began out of the need for youth to participate in the environmental movement, since there was a gap between the adult and the youth, where the youth were being excluded from a lot of things. We started the youth group and gradually had more students join. Today, we have 20 students who are actively involved in the group and other students who do community service in the group. These students use their real life experiences in their communities and apply it to environmental justice through organizing.
What motivates you?
My community. I have been living in the same community since I was born and it was everything I knew up to a point. But once I started to explore other Chicago neighborhoods I began noticing that in other neighborhoods there wasn’t the same pollution, there wasn’t the same level of industry, and there were quality schools. After that I realized that a socio-economic disparity existed in Chicago. The fact that there was this inequity and the fact that my community was struggling, that’s what motivated me to take action. I felt that I had a duty as a member of my community to help educate and motivate others to see that they are not the only ones who see these disparities and that they are not alone in wanting to change our community.
Is there someone you’ve met or worked with that has really inspired you?
Meeting Dolores Huerta was very inspiring. Not just because she is very well known in the labor movement and in the Chicano movement, but because of her personality in general. I had the chance to meet her in April where we happened to be on the same panel during the Clinton Global Initiative summit in Coral Gables, Florida. Although she is of age, she is so young at heart. I think Dolores is a great example of keeping a young spirit because even though she has years of experience she still does the simple things that young people do. I also appreciate her non-violent actions and the ways she analyzes problems without the use of hostility or aggression. She tackles issues without anger or hatred but rather in a civil and non-violent positive way. I believe such non-violent actions has the greatest effect in creating change for the positive.
What is one main life goal that you want to accomplish?
My one goal in life is to be able to see the day when communities will be treated equally. The day when my community does not have coal power plants, but instead has wind turbines. The day when communities, like mine, won’t have to suffer health issues due to the pollution in their environment. The day when our world is more socially responsible and takes good actions in reducing harm. The day when economics isn’t prioritized over human life, whether it be human or endangered species. A world that is more humanitarian.
Tell me more about your work at Young Activist Organizing?
One of the main things we do is learn how to organize. We hold trainings conducted by older more experienced organizers and other high school seniors. We also have an environmental justice newsletter created by youth for youth. It includes issues important to teens such as education and militarization in communities of color. We also work on a project that began in 2007, “Our Map of Environmental Justice”, a multi-media online interactive map that maps the toxins in a two-mile radius between high schools and coal power plants. The map includes videos, toxic sites, and gang territory delineations and is used to educate the community about environmental issues. The youth organizers interviewed people concerning the environment and their health, we later put these videos online to motivate others to take action whether it be in their community, nationally, or statewide. This video project hands the power of journalism over to the youth who can record their real life experiences. Giving students the power and the knowledge to be their own journalist and speak for themselves has been a major accomplishment.
What is a struggle that you’ve faced or are facing in your work?
There’s two. One is being able to expand, it’s very hard. With such a great project I would like to see it expand to cover the entire Chicago area but there are limited resources for that. My vision would be to help collect funds, write grants, or fundraise to expand the project to other areas and maybe even globally. Second, career wise it has been a challenge to balance my work in the community and my academics. I realize it will always be a challenge but there is always a way to balance it as well. I think it’s important to stay connected to the community as I continue my studies. I believe pursuing higher education is very important because it will allow me to better serve my community.
What advice do you have for others dealing with similar struggles?
Well the advice I would give is not to be afraid and speak out. If there is an issue that is very pressing, talk about it with your friends. If you find others who have the same concerns the next step is to make it official, turn it into a club, group, organization, or project. It’s a matter of not being afraid and speaking out to find those who see the same injustices and share the same passions to create change.
How can other fellows get involved or find more information on the work you’ve been doing?
Other fellows can find out more about the work at www.lbejo.org that’s the general organization website. The website to our newsletter is www.elcilantro.org , at that site there is also a link to our Google map. Fellows can explore what we did and what we continue to do.
What is your vision of social justice in the environmental movement?
My vision for social justice in relation to the environmental movement is to not be so separated from other movements. To see other movements link up and find the common ground that becomes the base for justice in general because you cannot have environmental justice without educational, health, and economic justice. It would be much more productive to come together, talk, and share to find the common ground. Having that solidarity and support is going to be very important in creating change.
I plan to go into graduate school to obtain a PhD in environmental justice/policy with the objective of becoming a professor in Chicago. I would like to work on community based research that engages the community, similar to the project I currently worked on. I think these methods of research are very valuable to subject areas because you are not just writing about issues but you are actually empowering people to create change in their own communities.
Is there anything else you want to say?
I’m not just all about environment, I’m also a big music person. I play the violin. I am very rooted in my Mexican folk music, Mariachi. Playing the violin has definitely shaped my life in a way that has shown me how much dedication needs to put into creating good work. My parents always encouraged me. It has been something that I apply in every aspect of my life, be it in the community, in the movement, or in academics. Music created the foundation for my dedication and that’s how I’ve really gotten things done.