Dr. Beverly Wright, executive director of Dillard University's Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs hosted the 2nd Annual HBCU Student Conference: Climate Change Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Experience April 17 – 19, 2014. This year's theme was Building Safe and Resilient Communities for All." Over 100 students, faculty, staff, and environmental justice leaders gathered to participate in the critical discussion about equity and inclusion in the face of climate change. HBCU's in attendance included Dillard University, Florida A & M University, Grambling State University, Howard University, Savannah State University, Southern University Baton Rouge, Spelman College, and Texas Southern University were in attendance. The three day conference included a community tour, an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, student and expert panelist and a Toxics Release Inventory Webinar.
The conference began with a community tour of Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle and a tour of sustainable low-income housing in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, LA. Bayou Bienvenue was once a resource-rich freshwater swamp filled with cypress trees, water lilies and freshwater wildlife where residents could fish, however, since the 1960's salt water has intruded into the wetland area due to the man-made Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) shipping channel. The Bayou has gone from cypress-tupelo swamp and fresh water marsh to open brackish pond in just twenty-five years. The restoration of Bayou Bienvenue is critical to the flood protection of the Lower Ninth Ward residents and can help restore the history and culture of the community.
Conference attendees also had an opportunity to tour Leadership Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certified affordable homes built in the Lower Ninth Ward in partnership with Global Green and the Make-it Right Project. These green homes sustainable projects have set a new standard for healthy, energy-efficient affordable housing in New Orleans and throughout the country.
HBCU Student Panels – There were three dynamic student panels that addressed The Impact of Climate Chang on Vulnerable Populations, Climate Change and Its Impacts: An International Perspective, and Building Environmental Stewardship on HBCU Campuses. A conference participant said "The students were highly adept, prepared, passionate, and expert communicators. They offered solutions and techniques to heal the planet. Dr. Beverly Wright and conference organizers brought us together and the conference was impeccable."
Student Poster Session – The student poster sessions covered a wide spectrum of topics including The Impact of Climate Change on Women of Color, An examination of Environmental Impacts Causing Aggressive Behavior, Case Studies of Recycling and Energy Saving Behavior Among the Elderly, Environmental Justice: Planning for Safety and Resilience Port Communities and Global Climate Change Impacts upon Indoor Air Quality.
Expert Environmental Researchers
Expert environmental researchers included Dean Robert Bullard, Texas Southern University, Dr. Beverly Wright, Dillard University, Dr. Sacoby Wilson, University of Maryland, Dr. Mildred McClain, Citizens for Environmental Justice, Dr. John Warford, Florida A & M, Dr. Gregory Jenkins, Howard University, Dr. Shirley Laska, Professor Emeritus University of New Orleans, and Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, University of Georgia, 2013 President, American Meteorological Society (AMS).
Dr. Shepherd, a leading international expert in weather, climate, and atmospheric related sciences presented the keynote address, African Americans and the Climate Gap via live streaming video. Dr. Shepherd's research shows that African Americans are more susceptible to health issues related to increased heat disaster and air pollution (e.g. heat related asthma, cancer, vector-borne disease). Research also shows that African Americans are economically more vulnerable to disaster and illnesses. In 2006 twenty percent of African Americans were without health insurance. Dr. Shepherd stated , "Hurricane Katrina was a poster child and wakeup call for climate and blacks."
Toxics Release Inventory WebinarÂÂÂÂ –Dr. David Padgett, professor of Geography and director of GIS Laboratory at Tennessee State University (TSU) presented a webinar to introduce stakeholders to environmental justice stakeholder participation in community-based research using online GIS mapping resources, which include Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) data. The TSU Environmental Justice Community Information Website gives stakeholders easy access to TRI data and other information regarding their local environment. The website is a one-stop-shop and training portal for several environmental and public health-based websites with mapping functions, including EPA's Environmental Justice Viewer and TRI.NET sites, the National Institute of Health TOXMAP website, the Environmental Defense Fund's Scorecard site among other resources.
2014 Damu Smith Power of One – Environmental Justice Leadership Award
Professor and Environmental Justice Advocate Dr. Paul Mohai, was awarded the 2014 Damu Smith Power of One Leadership Award. Dr. Paul Mohai is Professor of Natural Resource and Environment at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He has been a major contributor to the growing body of quantitative research examining the disproportionate environmental burdens in low income and people of color communities. A significant outcome of his early research was the organization of the historic 1990 "Michigan Conference on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards" with colleague Dr. Bunyan Bryant. Dr. Mohai has served on the National Advisory Committee to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, and was a member in the early 1990s of the "Michigan Coalition" that advised the U.S. EPA on environmental justice policy. He is currently a member of EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC). His current research involves national level studies examining the causes of environmental disparities and the role environmental factors play in accounting for racial and socioeconomic disparities in health. Dr. Mohai is also examining pollution burdens around public schools and the links between such burdens and student performance and health.
As conference participants move forward with the conversation on equity and inclusion in the face of climate change, merging social media with climate justice is a powerful tool to help HBCU's and vulnerable communities organize, mobilize, and advance the critical message of building resilient communities for all. "The Civil Rights Movement dealt with equality, today we are dealing with our very own existence." Rev. Lennox Yearwood.
HBCU Student Climate Change Conference VideoÂÂ By Stephawn Spears, 2014 Dillard University Mass Communications Graduate