April 6, 2015 – 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 3rd Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Experience, March 26 - 29, 2015. This year’s theme was “Preparing Tomorrow’s Leaders through Research and Action.” Over 165 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 Alabama A & M University, Alabama State University, Claflin University, Dillard University, Florida A & M University, Fisk University, Grambling State University, Jackson State University, Howard University, Huston-Tillotson University, Lincoln University, Morehouse College, North Carolina A & T, Southern University and A & M College, Baton Rouge, Savannah State University, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, Texas Southern University, and Xavier University of Louisiana were in attendance. The four day conference included a community tour, an undergraduate and graduate student poster session, COP21 session, student and expert panelist.
History of Schools Built on Toxic Landfills in New Orleans – Lessons Not Learned
Every thirty (30) years a school in New Orleans is built on top of a toxic landfill. Conference participants toured the site of the former Booker T. Washington High School (built on the Clio Street/Silver City Landfill in 1942) and the former site of the R. Moton Elementary School (built on the Agriculture Street Landfill in 1984). The Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD) plans to rebuild a new school on the site of the former Booker T. Washington High School. Site tests revealed unacceptable levels of heavy metals in soil samples as deep as 15 feet. Environmental justice advocates have organized to challenge the Recovery School District (RSD), the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and elected officials to stop plans to build a new school on the site.
HBCU Student Panels
There were five (5) dynamic student panels including: The Air Out There: Climate Change and Air Quality, Promoting Sustainability Initiatives on HBCU Campuses, The Impact of Air Quality on Vulnerable Communities, Promoting Sustainability Life Styles and Changing Behaviors, and Climate Change and Its Impacts: An International Comparison. The Air Out There… student panel addressed how poor air and soil quality in environmental justice communities, makes it difficult to live, breath, and grow a healthy garden in these vulnerable communities.
Student Poster Session
There were fourteen (14) student poster sessions that covered a wide spectrum of topics including the Social and Economic Impact of Climate Change: An Exploratory Study, Green is the New Black: Building Campus-Community Bridges Base on Sustainability, Awareness and Pride, Investigation into the Variables Influencing Salt Marsh Migration and Vegetation Distribution Patterns at Bib Bay a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Sentinel Site, SC, and Exploring the Socioeconomic Characteristics of Communities Living Near TRI Facilities along the Houston Ship Channel.
Expert Environmental Presenters
Expert environmental presenters included Dean Robert Bullard, Texas Southern University, Dr. Beverly Wright, Dillard University, American Security Project leaders Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Retired), Lieutenant General Arlen “Dirk” Jameson, USAF (retired), Mr. James Brown, EPA Region 6, Dr. David Padgett, Tennessee State University, Dr. Jae-Young Ko, Jackson State University, Dr. Earthea Nance, Texas Southern University, Dr. Paul Mohai, University of Michigan, Peggy Shepard, WeAct for Environmental Justice, Dr. Richard Gragg, Florida A & M, Dr. John Warford, Florida A & M, Dr. Shoba Sriharan, Virginia State University, Monique Harden, Esquire, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights, Jalonne White Newsome, Esquire, WeAct for Environmental Justice, Dr. Byoung-Suk, Kweon, University of Maryland, Cecil Corbin-Mark, WeAct for Environmental Justice, Dr. Mildred McClain, Concerned Citizens for Environmental Justice, Jacqui Patterson, NAACP, and Tina Johnson, Energy Action Coalition.
Partner and senior vice president of Golden Leaf Energy (GLE) alternative fuels, founding president and CEO of Channel Zero, and award winning mentor, inventor, author and former engineering professor at Tulane University, Dr. Calvin Mackie was the keynote luncheon speaker on Friday, March 27, 2015. He encouraged the students to take on the big challenges of this world to arrive at solutions. Although he lost his tenure engineering teaching job at Tulane University after Hurricane Katrina, adversity catapulted him into his destiny when he became partner in a biodiesel fuel business.
The vice-president of sustainability at Interface Americas and chair of the United States Green Building Council Board of Directors, Mr. George Bandy, Jr. was the keynote luncheon speaker on Saturday, March 28th. Mr. Bandy addressed the importance of systematic thinking and restoring urban communities by using local resources.
Green Entrepreneurship Roundtable
Mr. Moses Boyd of Integrated Solutions Group, Inc. and Mr. George Bandy, Jr. of Interface engaged conference participants with sustainable solutions to developing green business. Because this world has limited resources it is critical that we manage the limited resources available. We must educate decision makers about the value of green technology to produce change.
Because of the importance of global climate issues and their impact on vulnerable populations in the United States, a COP21 panel was included on the agenda. Conference participants had an opportunity to learn about global climate policy in preparation for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of the Parties 21 in Paris, France in December 2015. The HBCU Climate Change Initiative plans to send HBCU faculty and student delegates to the COP21 Conference this year.
2015 Damu Smith Power of One Environmental Justice Leadership Award
Attorney and Environmental Justice Advocate Monique Harden, Esquire, was awarded the 2015 Damu Smith Power of One Leadership Award. Ms. Harden is co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights a non-profit law firm that provides a full range of litigation and advocacy services to communities suffering from environmental degradation. Since 1996, Ms. Harden has provided legal counsel and advocacy support in the environmental justice arena after receiving her BA from St. John's College in 1990 and her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1995. Ms. Harden has worked tirelessly for many environmental justice communities in metro New Orleans, the Gulf Coast Region, nationally and internationally. The fruit of her efforts have been realized on many levels affecting global human rights policy.
Memorial Tribute to Dr. Andrea Kidd-Taylor
As one of the original faculty mentors in the HBCU Climate Change Initiative and 1st Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference, the HBCU Climate Change Initiative gave a special memorial tribute to Dr. Andrea Kidd-Taylor from Morgan State University in memory of her legacy of leadership in environmental health and safety and public health. A plaque was presented to her family in her honor via livestream.
High School Student Initiative
On Saturday March 28th, 2015, Navigate Nola's Danielle Wright facilitated a group listening session that consisted of 14 African-American high school students, ranging from grades 9-12, born in and currently living in the city of New Orleans. The discussion was preceded by a science lesson that sought to provide participants with a framework for an understanding of the environmental conditions that contribute to the intensity of natural disasters. The listening circle explored the participants’ experiences around Hurricane Katrina, by investigating the social conditions that led to Hurricane Katrina being both a social and public health disaster.
Coming upon the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the group participants were between the tender ages of 4-8, during the time of this unprecedented natural disaster. Because of their juvenescence, at the time of the disaster, the story of the children of Katrina, is often left out of the overall Katrina narrative. Many of them, during this time, did not have the emotional vocabulary to even begin to articulate the affect that this experience was having on their lives.
Participants began to share experiences of being rescued off rooftops by helicopters, living in shelters, watching the disaster on the news and wondering if family members were safe…many of the hallmark experiences of Hurricane Katrina, but from the perspective of New Orleans youth.
“We’re already behind because of Katrina, I went to 4 different schools in one year after the hurricane. A lot of people that I know are 2-3 grades behind in school, said another participant.”
Although the new New Orleans seems to be a booming geographical location, providing transplants and a very small percentage of our natives with a wealth of opportunities, the majority of New Orleans natives continue to struggle and our children remain ignored and in a state of crisis.
As conference organizers move forward to continue the discussion on inclusion and equity in response to climate change, we look forward to expanding climate justice education and training to HBCU students and vulnerable communities across the nation. Conference organizers would like to thank the conference funders: EPA Office of Air and Radiation and Office of Environmental Justice, the Energy Action Coalition, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
Click the title to view/download presentations from the 3rd Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Experience