We Are One With Flint: It's Not Just About the Water

 hbcu 2016 flint


April 13, 2016 – 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 convened the 4th Annual HBCU Conference: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Experience, March 29 –April 2, 2016. Over 300 students, faculty, staff, community leaders and environmental experts gathered to participate in the critical discussion about equity and inclusion in the face of climate change. Colleges and Universities in attendance included Alabama A & M University, Claflin University, Dillard University, Florida A & M University, Fisk University, Grambling State University, Howard University, Huston-Tillotson University, Lincoln University, North Carolina A & T, Southern University A & M College, Baton Rouge, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, Texas Southern University, Tuskegee University, and the University of Michigan. Highlights from the five day conference included the We Are One With Flint Panel, the Plantation to Plant Mississippi River Chemical Corridor Tour, the Damu Smith Power of One Award, undergraduate and graduate student panels, a student poster session, and Green Entrepreneurship Roundtable and the high school initiative workshop.

We Are One With Flint Panel

The HBCU Climate Change Consortium launched the “We Are One With Flint Campaign” to support Flint, Michigan Mayor, Dr. Karen Weaver and Flint NAACP President Frances Gilcreast in the fight to achieve environmental justice for residents in Flint, Michigan exposed to high levels of lead from the Flint River. The Flint water source was switched from Lake Huron in 2014 to reduce the water fund shortfall. The panelist included Mayor Karen Weaver, Frances Gilcreast, President Flint NAACP, Jacqui Patterson, Project Director of NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean BJ/ML School of Public Affairs. The story of injustice in Flint, MI puts the spotlight on environmental injustice that has gone on for decades in the United States. This issue has lifted up the history of unregulated rivers and the disinvestment in communities of color that have been abandoned by industry. We have a nationwide pattern of vulnerable communities living in sacrifice zones. The HBCU Climate Change Consortium is standing should to shoulder with Flint to continue to put pressure on government to ensure that the response to the Flint water crisis is not with a mere band aid but a complete overhaul of the infrastructure. In the words of Jacqui Patterson of the NAACP, "We can't tweak a system that has been so deeply flawed, if this was the case, the fix would have been running clean water through the pipes, but you can't put clean water in a dirty system and expect everything to be ok. It's like the biblical reference of putting new wine in old wine skins, it's just not enough.... we need new wine skins."

Community Tour - From Plantation to Plant

Conference participants visited the Whitney Plantation, a landmark built by slaves and their descendants. Participants were also given a tour of fenceline communities along the Louisiana Mississippi River Chemical Corridor. Participants on the tour were given a history of the transition from slave plantations to chemical plants along the corridor. The political climate that evolved out of a plantation structure created a hierarchy that once empowered plantation owners and that continues to empower petrochemical industries as an elite class that controls government and finances. The cooperative agreement written to support the growth of the industry in Louisiana guaranteed low taxes, low wages, a non-union labor force and the lack of industry regulation, this began the emergence of the Louisiana Mississippi River Chemical Corridor. This dirty extractive industry has relegated many of the state's residents to a life of poverty and poor health, as well as the destruction of the natural environment.

HBCU Student Panels – There were six (6) dynamic student panels including: Understanding Flint: HBCU Student Response, Water Quality and Climate Change, Climate Change and Sustainability, Geographic Information System and Environmental Justice Communities, Campus Sustainability and Examining COP21: an HBCU Student Perspective. During the COP21 Student Panel - "We Stand on the Shoulders of Those Who Came Before Us," students reflected on lessons learned from their experience at the COP21 Climate Change Conference in Paris, France . The students discussed areas involving community social dynamics, science, technology, and politics. The panel discussed some of the building blocks taken from COP21 how they will use those building blocks to pass on to the next generation...Some of the building blocks that the panelist will pass on to the next generation included these statements: "we must completely listen to one another and not interject, if we just listen to what people have to say, we can be more effective to help communities. " Take one step at a time, don't try to do everything at once but do small things. For instance, take a bicycle to work or school to help reduce green house gas emissions." "Get up and expand your knowledge, there is always an opportunity to learn, be ready for the real world."

Expert Panels - There were five (5) plenary sessions, one (1) community panel and four (4) expert panels which included: Setting the Stage on Climate Change, Climate Change and Communities of Color, Climate Justice and People's Climate Music, A Decade of Unnatural Disaster: Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space in New Orleans-A Critical Ecological Perspective, White Allies and Racial Justice: Is Showing Up Enough?, Lessons from the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements for Today's Climate Justice Revolution, HBCU's and Global Solutions to Climate Change, A Path to Power for All: Climate & Environmental Justice, and Examining COP21 through and HBCU Partnership Lens. The Path to Power for All: Climate & Environmental Justice panel addressed the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP) that require states ensure environmental justice in both the development and implementation of reducing power plant pollution. The panel discussed steps that HBCU's can take to engage communities in their perspective states to help implement the plan.

Student Poster Session – There were twenty (20) student poster sessions that covered a wide spectrum of topics including the Monitoring Community Waste Management After a Disaster, Should University Endowments Divest from Fossil Fuels, Climate Change as a Driver of Migration in Zimbabwe and Engaging Community Stakeholders in Air Quality Sampling and GIS.

Green Entrepreneurship Roundtable

Mr. Mark Davis, NBA Player turned entrepreneur is the founder of WDC Solar, one of the nation's first African American-owned solar panel installation companies. WDC Solar founded in 2009 in low income area outside of Washington, DC Has used solar energy has a poverty alleviation tool. WDC Solar provide entry level solar installation training and workshops to low income communities. Residents are trained and put to work which provides a workforce for low income communities. Over 300 homes have received solar systems over the past 5 years. There is economic empowerment and those residents can 35 - 50 dollars of their energy bill every month to purchase what they really need. The money goes back into the community for economic development. WDC developed a curriculum to install renewable energy systems at colleges and universities. WDC has installed solar systems at universities in the DC area and plans to expand these efforts in the fight for climate justice by creating renewable energy jobs.

Dr. Calvin Mackie is 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. Mackie's father gave him some great advice when he told him, "I don't know any man to take care of another man for the rest of his life, you have to do something for yourself." When Dr. Mackie lost his faculty tenure job at Tulane University when the engineering department closed after Hurricane Katrina, he understood the words of wisdom given by his father. Because he listened to the wisdom of his father, he was able to recover from the loss of a six figure salary by starting his own business making renewable, clean, biofuels. GLE now has a fifteen thousand square foot manufacturing facility in New Orleans East producing six (6) million gallons a year of lubricants that doesn't pollute the environment. "Entrepreneurship is about finding a need and meeting the need. Dream big and achieve big dreams. "

2016 Damu Smith Power of One Environmental Justice Leadership Award

Director of the Geographic Information Sciences (GISc) Laboratory and Associate Professor of Geography at Tennessee State University (TSU), Dr. David Padgett, was awarded the 2016 Damu Smith Power Of One Leadership Award. Dr. Padgett is a native of Baltimore, Maryland and a graduate of Western Kentucky University and the University of Florida t Gainesville. He developed a Geography/Environmental Justice curriculum with a strong emphasis on service learning. Since establishing the GISc Lab in the summer of 2000, Padgett has mentored several undergraduate research assistants on a variety of service learning projects to improve public transit accessibility, GIS-supported homeless population mapping and GIS mapping of Nashville’s Red Cross emergency shelters. Dr. Padgett is owner and Chief Consultant of GEO-Mental, a multi-faceted environmental consulting firm. He is also project manager and co-author of “The Best Cities for African Americans,” a cover feature series for Black Enterprise Magazine – May 2007, July 2004 and July 2001. He also authored “Nashville: An Experience in Metropolitan Governance” in Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity, Robert D. Bullard (Ed.) , Paper/February 2007 and the co-author (with Heather O’Hara, MD) of “Urban Food Deserts and their Potentially Negative Impacts on Low-Income and Black Communities in Nashville, Tennessee” in The State of Blacks in Middle-Tennessee – December 2010. For more than fifteen years Dr. Padgett has used his knowledge of GIS and geology to make a significant contribution toward addressing environmental justice issues and community health issues in Nashville, TN.

Book Signing - a book signing was hosted where some of the expert speakers sold their recent publications addressing climate justice and government response to disasters in communities of color.

High School Student Initiative Workshop

On Saturday April 2, 2016, high-school students from 4 schools in the greater New Orleans area and 1 school located in Detroit, MI, participated in the HBCU Climate Change High-School Initiative workshop. The workshop consisted of 2 sessions. The first session provided students with an introduction to climate change, the impact of climate change on the following levels: individual, interpersonal, community, policy/societal, and an interactive activity that prompted students to explore the ways in which they can advocate for climate justice in their anticipated future careers. This session was facilitated by public health practitioner Mario Jones, MHA.

The second session focused on the psychological impact of climate change. This session was characterized by an exploration of the direct and indirect psychological impact of trauma, utilizing Hurricane Katrina and the Flint Water Crisis as examples of disasters, to prompt discussion around the topic. Additionally, students were challenged think through psychological implications of disasters, such as economic and income loss, food security and its impact on families. The session utilized two short videos, one consisted of young people discussing the psychological trauma associated with the respective disaster that they experienced, and the other consisted of young people born post-Hurricane Katrina, discussing their views about Hurricane Katrina and the post disaster recovery environment of New Orleans. We also utilized this session to discuss racial inequity as it relates to access, opportunities, quality of education, jobs and income. We explored how these inequities exacerbate the vulnerability of minority communities to climate injustice.

As conference organizers move forward, education and training in renewable energy, international climate change, and climate change policies will be a focus as we continue efforts to reduce our carbon footprint in communities of color. The HBCU Climate Change Consortium would like to thank the conference funders: EPA Office of Air and Radiation and Office of Environmental Justice, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Save the Date for the 5th Anniversary of the HBCU Climate Change Conference, March 29 - April 2, 2017 in New Orleans, LA. For more information please contact Mary I. Williams, assistant director for community relations and student engagement, DU Deep South Center for Environmental Justice This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 504-816-4028.


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