UNSUNG SHEROES AND HEROES
ON THE FRONT LINE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Much of the work around environmental and economic justice goes unnoticed by the larger society. We know that great things are happening all across the U.S. and around the world--even if it's not reported on the six o'clock news or printed across newspaper headlines. It is the small but important victories that has built and carried our movement to national prominence. Many of incremental changes have been forced onto the local, state, and national scene. Although we have had a few big splashes across the national media, most of the hard-fought gains have been won inch-by-inch. In some cases we have advanced two steps, and have gotten knocked back one. Nevertheless, the people have persevered. We have to know when we have won, since our enemy will never tell us when we have won. It is important that we pause (but not for too long) to celebrate our heroes and sheroes who have made sacrifices over and beyond the call of duty.
The grassroots environmental and economic justice movement is built around the work of dedicated individuals, organizations, and networks. We would like for you to get to know some of these individuals and their work.
If you know of leaders or groups you would like to recommend for our "Unsung Heroes and Sheroes" page, please send us the information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Environmental Justice Movement Loses Southside Chicago Icon Hazel Johnson by Robert Bullard
At 1:42am on Wednesday, January 12, 2011, the nation lost Hazel Johnson, an icon of the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States. Nearly two decades ago in October 1991, Ms. Johnson was tagged the "Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement" at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. This unofficial title was reaffirmed at the 2002 EJ Summit II held in Washington, DC. Both summits attracted several thousand leaders from around the world.
Ms. Johnson died peacefully in her sleep. She was a warrior of the first order and a "shero" to millions. She was born January 25, 1935 in New Orleans where she grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward. She would have been 76 on her next birthday. Hazel relocated to Chicago in 1957 and moved into Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development located in the Riverdale Community area. Hazel's husband, John Johnson, died at the age of 41 of lung cancer. She believed pollution contributed to his death.
She is best known for her relentless pursuit of environmental justice for low-income black residents. Her even temper and quiet demeanor could disarm the most ardent opponent. She inspired hundreds of grassroots groups to organize and fight for environmental and economic justice. In October 1982, she founded People for Community Recovery (PCR), one of the oldest African American community-based environmental justice organizations in the Midwest.
Her work in Chicago gained prominence several years before another young community organizer Barack Obama took up the environmental justice mantle in her community, and later became President of the United States. The young Obama went on to become her U.S. Senator and the 44th President of the United States. Hazel stayed in her Southside Chicago neighborhood to lead the struggle in Altgeld Gardens, a community of some about 8,000 residents surrounded by pollution and environmental dumping on the poor.
She got involved in environmental issues while watching the news and learned that Southeast Chicago had the highest incidence of cancer than any other area within the city. After learning these disturbing facts, she contacted the city and state health department for additional information. She asked the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to mail her a complaint form and in return, she made 1,200 copies of the forms and began knocking on her neighbors' doors asking them to fill it out. She later learned that people were suffering with severe health problems that could be environmentally related. Asthma, cancer, skin rash, kidney and liver problems were documented on the complaint forms.
She often referred to her community as a " toxic doughnut" because of the large number of environmental hazards and waste dumps surrounding her neighborhood. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times back in 1993, Hazel Johnson set her sights on the polluting industries who want to turn her Chicago housing project into a toxic dump. She says, "The people who made this mess know me, and I won't give 'em a minute's peace." She was in their face 24/7 and never retreated. She would not rest until she won justice for all of her neighbors in Chicago and oppressed peoples around the world.
Through her perseverance and dedication, Ms. Johnson has successfully brought needed attention to the environmental issues in Southeast Chicago. She had testified before Congress, met three Presidents of the United States, sponsored "toxic tours" of her community with dignitaries, hosted environmental conferences, workshops, and training programs, and lectured at hundred of universities and colleges.
Ms. Johnson served on the U.S. EPA's first National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), established by charter pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) on September 30, 1993. The charter for the NEJAC provides the Administrator with advice and recommendations with respect to integrating environmental justice considerations into EPA's programs, policies, and day-to-day activities.
And on February 11, 1994, while attending the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) "Symposium on Health and Research Needs to Ensure Environmental Justice" in Arlington, VA, when she and a handful of EJ leaders were called to the White House to witness President Bill Clinton sign the Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, " Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations."
For the past two decades, Hazel Johnson has been a stalwart in the antiracist movement and a relentless advocate for poor people at home and abroad. She traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 as part of an environmental justice delegation to the United Nations Earth Summit where she shared her story with Brazilians who faced environmental justice challenges ranging from those in the rainforests of the Amazon to those who lived in favels or shanty town in the cities. In 1996, she carried her environmental justice message abroad to South Africa as part of a twelve-member people of color delegation where she witnessed firsthand the environmental ravages of that country's evil apartheid system. She later participated in several other international meetings, including the 2000 Climate Justice Summit in The Hague, Netherlands, 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa, and 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development(WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Her story has been told on every major U.S. television network. She has appeared on National Public Radio (NPR) several times. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Emerge, Essence, and Ebony magazine. She has even been the subject of puppet shows and plays. Her work on the Southside of Chicago has even attracted the foreign press, including the British, French, and German media.
She and PCR were featured in the People of Color Environmental Groups Directory published by the C.S. Mott Foundation in 2000. She has received numerous awards and honors for her important work. Photographs of her are found in Children's Museums, the U.S. Congress, and Chicago Public Libraries. One of the most important awards she accepted on the behalf of PCR is a gold medal from the President's Conservation and Challenge Award for Communication and Education. In 2010, Planet Harmony named her one of "Ten African American Heroes" for her work educating people about the effects of environmental hazards on low-income and people of color communities.
Today, Altgeld Gardens is cleaner and healthier for her work. And because of her efforts, some of the dirtiest nearby industrial sites have cleaned up their acts. Much work is still needed. Ms. Johnson passed the torch to her daughter Cheryl Johnson to carry on the struggle. Hazel Johnson is survived by her seven children, ten grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. The EJ Movement and the world will miss this great warrior and healer. Her legacy lives on in her work and the thousands of lives she has touched the nearly 76 years she was with us.
The "Mother" of the EJ Movement
Hazel Johnson is a mother of seven children and nine grandchildren. At age 64, she continues to inspire hundreds of grassroots groups to organize and fight for environmental and economic justice. In October 1982, she founded People for Community Recovery (PCR) located on the Southside of Chicago. PCR is one of the oldest African American grassroots community-based environmental organization in the Midwest. For the past two decades, Ms. Johnson has been a stalwart in the antiracist movement and a relentless advocate for poor people at home and abroad. Her story has been told on every major television network. She has appeared on NPR several times. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Emerge, Essence, and Ebony active on environmental issues in her community and other communities of color around the country. Her work on the Southside of Chicago has even attracted the foreign press. She got involved in environmental issues while watching the news and learned that Southeast Chicago had the highest incidence of cancer than any other area within the city. Ms Johnson describes her neighborhood as a "toxic doughnut" because of all of the polluting industries surrounding her community. Later, she contacted the city and state health department for additional information. She asked the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to mail her a complaint form and in return, she made 1,200 copies of the forms and began knocking on her neighbors' doors asking them to fill it out. She later learned that people were suffering with severe health problems that could be environmentally related. Asthma, cancer, skin rash, kidney and liver problems were documented on the complaint forms. Through her perseverance and dedication, Ms. Johnson has successfully brought needed attention to the environmental issues in Southeast Chicago. She had testified before Congress, met two Presidents of the United States, sponsored "toxic tours" of her community with dignitaries, hosted two environmental conferences, has spoken at hundred universities and colleges, and held workshops and training programs. In 1991, Ms. Johnson was tagged the "Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement" at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in Washington, DC. She has received numerous awards and honors for her important work. Photographs of her are found in Children's Museums, the U.S. Congress, and Chicago Public Libraries. One of the most important awards she had accepted on the behalf of People for Community Recovery is a gold medal from the President's Conservation and Challenge Award for Communication and Education.
Damu Smith (1952-2006) -- Speak Truth to Power -- Tribute to an EJ Giant
May 20, 2006 -- Damu Smith, an internationally known D.C. peace activist who advocated for a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the 1980s, fought chemical pollution on the Louisiana Gulf Coast in the 1990s and campaigned against the war in Iraq in the new century, died May 5 at George Washington University Hospital after a year-long battle with colon cancer. He was 54. For more information, click HERE.
On July 9, 2005 nearly a thousand environmental justice, human rights, and peace activists, artists, and scholars from around the nation assembled in Howard Universitys Cramton Auditorium to pay tribute to community hero Damu Smith. The four-hour event was moderated by actor Danny Glover and singer Bernice Johnson Reagon, Leader of African American a capella group Sweet Honey in the Rock. To view full tribute program agenda click HERE.
Damu Smiths life is a testimony of consistency and commitment to social justice Damu was born Leroy Wesley Smith in 1952 in St. Louis, Missouri to Sylvester and Vernice Smith. Together with his three brothers and sister, the family lived in the Carr Square Village housing project until Damu was seventeen. In the book Diamond: A Struggle for Environmental justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor, Smith told author Steve Lerner: "I grew up in a working-class, lower-income family. My father was a fireman and an air pollution inspector and my mother was a licensed practical nurse. So I was born of working-class parents. My mother and father went through a lot of dif-ficulties at times...and sometimes it resulted in us going on welfare... I mention this because much of what I am today has been shaped by the fact that I grew up in not wretchedly poor surroundings, but we struggled. I know what it is to go to school without heat at home and study by candlelight and not have enough money to get adequate clothes... I grew up under food stamps and welfare and government handout cheese and milk and meat and all that... So I have great sensitivity to the plight of poor people."
As a high school student, Smith attended a Jesuit-run, after-school program for "disadvantaged male youth". As part of that program he went on a field trip to Cairo, Illinois to Black Solidarity Day rallies where Damu listened to speeches by Amiri Baraka, Rev. Ralph Abemathy, Julian Bond, Nina Sirmone and Jesse Jackson, and he toured Black neighborhoods where white supremacists had sprayed houses with gunfire. Damu recalls, "Seeing those bullet holes...that changed my life." As a freshman student at St. John's University in Collegeville, Min-nesota, and president of the Organization of Afro-American Students, Smith led a protest and takeover of the school's administrative offices demanding a Black studies program. It was while at St. John's that Smith changed his name to Damu Amiri Imara Smith. In Swahili, Damu means blood. As he has stated, 'The blood that I am willing to shed for the liberation of my people." Amiri means leadership: The leadership I must provide in the service of my people." And Imara means strength: The strength and stamina I have to maintain in the struggle." In 1973, Smith moved to Washington, DC to attend Antioch College's Center for the Study of Basic Human Problems, and to be "close to the action." And as they say, the rest is history.
Extending over more than thirty years, his activism has included vigilance in the fight against apartheid in South Africa as Executive Director of the Washington Office on Africa and co-founder of Artists for a Free South Africa. Damu has worked to expose gun violence, police brutality and government injustice through his work with the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the National Wilmington 10 Defense Committee, and the National Black Independent Political Party. He has worked to effect peace and a freeze on nuclear weapons as Associate Director of the Washington Office of the American Friends Service Committee, and advocated for environmental justice as National Associate Director and national toxics campaigner for Greenpeace USA.
Smith became the first coordinator for environmental justice for the Southern Organizing Committee for Economic and Social Justice, and in that capacity visited forty towns and cities in nine states in 1991 and 1992 experiencing first hand how chemical dumping and other environmentally toxic corporate practices impact the health and lives of poor and African American communities. He also organized Toxic Tours in the South for Greenpeace, taking celebrities such as Alice Walker, Haki Madhubuti and others to an area in Louisiana called "Cancer Alley" because of its toxicity. Damu was instrumental in helping grass roots organizations confront Shell Oil about its dumping practices and to force a PVC plant out of Norco, Louisiana, a campaign that has been dramatized in a Lifetime cable channel movie. In 1999, in a move that changed the face of the environmental movement, Smith coordinated the largest environmental justice conference ever held, the historic National Emergency Gathering of Black Community Advocates for Environmental and Economic Justice. This gathering led to the formation of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), the first ever national network of Black environmental justice activists, of which he is currently executive director.
Damu is also the founder of Black Voices for Peace, a group dedicated to mobilizing the Black community in con-cert with people of goodwill of all races and nationalities to protest US military aggression in Iraq and elsewhere around the world, and to lobby for redirecting the billions of dollars the Bush administration is spending on global U.S. military operations and support of the Israeli government's occupation of Palestinian land to funding for universal healthcare and access, for education, jobs, housing, environmental protection, equal justice, reparations and other critical human needs. While participating in a Palm Sunday peace march this year in Palestine, Damu fainted and had a seizure. Tests completed in the Palestine Authority and in US hospitals have confirmed the presence of stage four cancer of the colon, which has spread to his liver. Throughout his life, Damu has been victorious in many, many struggles for human rights and justice. And he will be triumphant in this his latest battle, against cancer. With the love of his twelve year old daugh-ter, Asha, the support of family and friends all over the world and all of you assembled tonight, and faith in God, Damu says he is confident that, "I can overcome this... I am overwhelmed by the love."
First African Women Wins Nobel Peace Prize (UPDATE)
In October, 2004, Wangari Maathai, a professor and environmental justice activist from Kenya, became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Professor Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement where, for nearly thirty years, she has mobilized poor women to plant some 30 million trees. Click HERE for Nobel Peace Prize presentation and photographs.
Professor Wangari Maathaai: Founder of the Green Belt Movement in Kenya
No one has done more to raise environmental awareness in Kenya than Professor Wangari Maathaai. Dr. Maathai has left her mark in communities all across that East African nation. She was born in Nyeri, Kenya in 1940. She was the first Kenyan woman to receive a Ph.D. She was trained in biological sciences and received a doctorate from the University of Nairobi, where she also taught veterinary anatomy. She became Chair of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy and an associate Professor in 1976 and 1977 respectively, being in both cases the first woman in the region to attain these positions. In her beautiful Kenya, Maathai observed the deforested land that had been razed for plantations and firewood. She saw the over cultivated fields, massive soil erosion, and poverty all around her. One day she decided that something had to be done to protect the environment and improve the lives of the poor. On World Environment Day in 1977, Maathai planted seven trees in her backyard. Her seemingly small tree-planting activity and militant environmentalism sparked the Green Belt Movement that changed the face of Kenya. She mobilized farmers, of whom over 70 percent are women, to plant protective green belts of trees. She took her grassroots movement into schools to involve children and, through them, their parents, in a campaign to regenerate the growth of indigenous trees. The overall aim of the Green Belt Movement is to create public awareness of the need to protect the environment through tree planting. The Green Belt Movement spread rapidly from Kenya to several other countries in the region, including Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Lesotho, Ethiopia, and Zimbabwe. In just two decades, Maathai and her Green Belt Movement raised environmental awareness across East Africa. The movement has reached many poor and illiterate women, winning their trust and empowering them. Maathai has protested the destruction of woodlands to make way for luxury apartments. She has been subjected to defamation, persecution, detention, and physical attacks. She has stood firm against threats on her life. Maathai has also won praise and numerous environmental awards from around countries around the world for standing up for a democratic, multi-ethnic Kenya. A video is available on Wangari Maathai entitled "Democracy or Disruption: Wangari Maathai and the Green Belt Movement." The video is 26:15 minutes long and can be obtained from the Video Project at: http://videoproject.org/conflictafrica.html.
First African American Wins 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize
On April 19, 2004, Margie Eugene Richard made history by becoming the first African American to win the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the award begun in 1990. The Goldman Environmental Prize is the world's largest award for grassroots environmentalism and carries a cash award of $125,000 for each winner. The awards ceremony, attended by 3,000 guests, was presented in San Francisco.
Margie is a retired schoolteacher, a grandmother, and an ardent environmental justice activist from the tiny African American Diamond community in Norco, Louisiana. She follows in the footsteps of other black leaders who refused to give in to racial injustice. Many of her Diamond community neighbors can trace their roots to descendents of African slaves who assembled small parcels of land from the old Diamond Plantation and passed it on to subsequent generations. It is ironic that the Diamond community and several other black communities along River Road were able to survive the early years after slavery and the Jim Crow era, but could not survive the toxic assault of the modern petrochemical industry. She grew up in a home that was just 25 feet away from the property line of the 15-acre Shell chemical plant when it expanded in 1955. The Diamond community is sandwiched between the Shell Oil plant and the Shell/Motiva refinery.
Margie knows toxic racism up close and personal. It is not something she read about or saw on television. She has seen it first hand in Norco, in the oil-rich Niger Delta (Nigeria), and in Durban, South Africa. Margie has dedicated a good portion of her adult life fighting the chemical assault on her segregated black community. Diamond community residents live in constant fear of toxic spills, explosions, and routine pollutions from nearby chemical plants. It is a type of "toxic terror." In 1989, she founded Concerned Citizens of Norco (NORCO is an acronym for New Orleans Refinery Company) to address the pollution from the sprawling Royal Dutch Shell petrochemical plants. For years, she and her neighbors complained about the foul odors, noise, perpetual light, and flaring from the nearby refinery. And for more than a decade, Shell refused to buy out and relocate the Diamond residents.
Since 1992, Margie has worked with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) at Xaiver University of Louisiana (where she serves on its community advisory board). The DSCEJ staff (under the leadership of Dr. Beverly Wright) planned training workshops for the Diamond community residents and other impacted African American communities along the Louisiana's petrochemical corridoralso referred to as "Cancer Alley." In these workshops, Margie and her Diamond community neighbors learned how to use computers to track pollution, geographic information system (GIS) mapping, environmental laws and regulations, health assessments, permitting, and relocation processes.
Margie's work attracted other important African American environmental justice allies from across the United States, including Monique Harden from Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Damu Smith from Greenpeace USA, and the relocation specialist Michael Lithcott Company. She helped plan the 2001 "Celebrities Tour of Cancer Alley" that brought national celebrities and leaders to Norco, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, actor Mike Farrell, poet Haki Madhubuti, civil rights leader Dr. Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA). The celebrity tour focused the national spotlight on the plight of the Diamond community.
Margie's outstanding work later attracted other outside resources and technical experts, including the Bucket Brigade, an innovative citizen air monitoring program, and the national media. In 2002, Margie was featured in Fenceline: A Company Town Divided, a moving one-hour PBS film shot on location in South Louisiana by renowned documentary filmmakers Slawomir Grunberg and Jane Greenberg. Her many accomplishments and "take no prisoner" battles waged against a mighty opponent are more than enough to fill a full-length Hollywood film. We are waiting to see Margie on the "big screen."
Margie is a founding member of the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN), begun in New Orleans in 1999. Representing her local organization, Concerned Citizens of Norco, and NBEJN, she took her struggle on the road to Congressional hearings in Washington, DC demanding environmental justice and equal protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She testified at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerlanddeclaring environmental racism in Norco a human rights violation. She traveled thousands of miles to The Netherlandshome of the Royal Dutch Shell Company where she challenged the CEO of Shell to "do the right thing" for the Diamond residents. Again, she demanded just compensation and full relocation of her entire community.
Margie has been relentless. She carried her struggle to two United Nations summits: the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), held in Durban, South Africa in 2001, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), convened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002. After years of targeted action by Margie and her environmental justice allies (who grew in number and potency), Shell offered to relocate residents from two of the Diamond community's four streets. Margie stubbornly demanded justice for all of her communitynot partial justice with some community residents left behind.
In June 2002, victory finally came when Shell agreed to a buyout that allowed residents to relocate from the chemical facilities, reduce emissions by 30 percent, and contribute $5 million to a community development fund. Margie's and the Diamond community's victory is a victory for the entire environmental justice movement. In October 2002, Margie's work was recognized by her environmental justice peers who saluted her with the Crowning Women of the EJ Movement Award given at the Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership, held in Washington, DC.
Margie Eugene Richard is our shero. All hats go off to our sister in the struggle.
See photos of Margie at the Goldman Environmental Prize awards ceremony click HERE.
Peggy Shepard is the executive director and co-founder of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT).
For her groundbreaking work, she was honored with the 2003 Heinz Award in the Environment category. A former Democratic District Leader, she represented West Harlem from 1985 to April 1993, and served as President of the National Women's Political Caucus-Manhattan from 1993-1997. In 1988, Ms. Shepard co-founded West Harlem Environmental Action, a non-profit organization working to improve environmental policy, public health, and quality of life in communities of color. Based in Northern Manhattan, WE ACT advances its mission through research, public education, advocacy, organizing, government accountability, litigation, legislative affairs and sustainable economic development. WE ACT works for environmental and social justice on issues of land use, waterfront development, brownfields redevelopment; transportation and air pollution, open space and environmental health. WE ACT was New York' first environmental justice organization created to improve environmental health and quality of life in communities of color. In January 2002, Ms Shepard was elected the first female chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and is co-chair of the Northeast Environmental Justice Network that she represents on the board of the Environmental Justice Fund. Ms. Shepard is a founding member of the National Black Environmental Justice Network. She is a member of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health and of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Ms. Shepard is a frequent lecturer at universities and conferences on issues of environmental justice and community-based health research, and has written extensively in both fields. Ms. Shepard is a board member of the national and NYS Leagues of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense, NY Earth Day, Citizen Action of NY, the Children's Environmental Health Network, and Healthy Schools Network, Inc. She is an advisory board member of the Bellevue Occupational and Environmental Medicine Clinic; the Harlem Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention; and Mt. Sinai's Children's Environmental Health Center.
Sister Dana Alston Lives on in Our Movement
Dana Ann Alston, a giant among environmental justice leaders, passed from this earth on Saturday, August 7, 1999. Dana's spirit lives on in all of our work and the individuals she touched. During her relatively short yet fruitful life (47 years old), her actions and deeds had a far-reaching impact in shaping the environmental justice movement. Dana was one of the movement's staunchest supporters. No one who attended the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington, DC can forget her moving and passionate speech. Her words resounded throughout the Summit. They continue to shape and guide it today. Her analysis is as true today as it was eight years ago. Environmental justice and communities of color are under siege. Some of the environmental justice detractors even look like us. We can not afford to be divided, distracted, or discouraged. Brothers and sisters, we need to revisit Dana's call to action. [To view her Summit speech in its entirety, click HERE].
Dana was magnificent in Rio. She led a delegation of environmental justice leaders to participate in the 1992 Earth Summit and Global Forum meetings in Rio de Janeiro. Here message was crystal clear: namely, the environmental and economic justice movement is an international struggle. People of color around the world must educate, organize, and mobilize our communities to combat racism and exploitative economic systems that endanger public health of the most vulnerable population and turn people of color communities into toxic waste lands. It is these same communities that receive risky technologies, non-sustainable development projects, and banned pesticides. She challenged the toxic waste trade that treats garbage like apples in the name of "free" trade. Understanding the links between the exploitation of the natural environment and exploitation of people in the U.S. and the similar pattern abroad, Dana was active in the movement that helped to dismantle apartheid in South Africa. She was part of the working group to receive former President Nelson Mandela when he made his historic tour of the U.S. following his release from prison.
Dana never forgot the importance of organizing and grassroots groups on which most social justice movement are built. She played an active role in increasing funding for people of color and grassroots organizing for social justice both in the U.S. and abroad. In this context, she served as President of the National Black United Fund (NFBU). At NBUF, she oversaw completion of a lawsuit that resulted in workers, for the first time, being able to contribute to a Black-led and organized charitable fund. As Program Officer for the Environment, Dana led the Public Welfare Foundation and other funders to increase resources for environmental justice projects, particularly those with the least access to funding. As both funder and activist, Dana brought a strong commitment to ensuring the affirmation of environmental and economic justice as a multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural movement. She was also a strong supporter of the environmental justice networks. In recognition of her hard work, Dana received the Charles Bannerman Memorial Fellowship, a sabbatical given to social justice activists and organizers in recognition of their outstanding contributions. We miss you Dana. Your message lives on.
Local Woman Continues to Fight at the Birthplace of the
Environmental Justice Movement.
The Environmental Justice movement was born in Warren County North Carolina on land that has been predominately black since the times of slavery. The movement began when predominately black Warren County was selected to be the final burial site for over 32,000 cubic yards of soil contaminated with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). It has been stated time and time again that this area was selected not because it was the most environmentally suitable (it was not) but because it was a poor, black, powerless community. The site, opened in late 1982, would have a five acre dump and a twenty acre buffer between it and the community, there was also a promise of a cleanup of the area when the technology to do so became available. Even though there has been no direct link found between PCBs and physical or mental illness, it is speculated that the airborne particles have played a part in the continuously high cancer rate and the high occurrence of behavioral problems of the teenagers who attended the elementary school less than two miles from the site. Dollie Burwell was born in Warren County and has lived less than 3 miles from the dump site for the past twenty years. She can remember the time before the landfills were in her community and has been working on its restoration ever since. Much of her time and energy is devoted towards forcing the government to take an active role in decontaminating this site. As one of the lead members of Warren County Concerned Citizens volunteer group, her efforts have begun to pay off. One million dollars was given in 1996 to fund a study and assessment on toxicity levels. That study and pressure from the community and other supporting organizations prompted the state government to pledge 15 million dollars in the budget to go towards a clean- up of the landfill using BCD technology. According to Burwell that is just the first step, the budget still has to be approved. It would take another nine million dollars to complete the task, which is not only to detoxify the land but to stimulate the economy. The one good thing that came from all of this is that it led the community to action. Between 1978, when the first illegal dumping took place, and 1982, when the site was opened, a record number of voters were registered and many people risked their lives and safety to protect their homes.
Grandmother Spearheads Fight Against Shintech
A 75-year old great grandmother has become a hero to thousands of environmental justice activists around the country. A gentle churchgoer turned activist, Emelda West, a longtime Convent, Louisiana residents, was pressed into duty. Her home, community, and environment are under siege from industrial polluters who would turn the strip along the Lower Mississippi River into a toxic wasteland. From her home located on the winding River Road, she has witnessed her community undergo a transformation from sugar cane plantations to one heavily dominated and devastated by the petrochemical industry. Over the years, she has heard dozens of companies moving into her community promise jobs to local residents. However, few community residents of Convent, which is over 70 percent African American, actually are hired. The community has a 60 percent unemployment rate; the average annual income of residents is only $6,000; over 40 percent live below the poverty line. The plants are so close to residents' homes that people could actually walk to work. Mrs. West helped found the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, a grassroots group fighting the Shintech poly vinyl chloride plant proposal. She joined the struggle against the Japanese company because environmental justice in Convent is long overdue. She argues that the U.S. EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are bound by the law to administer and implement their programs, mandates, and policies in a nondiscriminatory way. Clearly, it is African Americans and poor people in Convent who will be disproportionately impacted by Shintech if the plant is allowed to be built. The Shintech plant would be located in a parish that ranks third in the state for toxic releases and transfers. The Shintech plant would add over 600,000 pounds of air pollutants annually to the more than 17.7 million pounds of releases. Mrs. West admits she is not an environmental scientist. However, she is quick to tell you she can add. Permitting the Shintech plant in Convent would significantly add to the toxic burden borne by local residents. She vows to fight this injustice to the bitter end.
Retired School Teacher's Action Sparks Relocation from "Black Love Canal"
Margaret Williams, a 73 year old retired Pensacola, Florida school teacher, led a five year campaign to get her community relocated from environmental and health hazards posed by the nation's third largest Superfund site. The Escambia Wood Treating site was dubbed "Mount Dioxin" because of the 60 feet high mound of contaminated soil dug up from the neighborhood. Mrs. Williams took Citizens Against Toxic Exposure or CATE, a neighborhood organization formed to get relocation, into battle with EPA officials who first proposed to move 66 households most affected by the site. After prodding from CATE, EPA then added 35 more households. Still, some 257 households, including an apartment complex, were left out. Mrs. Williams and her group refused to accept any relocation plan unless everyone was moved. It was her contention that partial relocation was tantamount to partial justice. She took her campaign on the road to EPA's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council or NEJAC. She got NEJAC's Waste Subcommittee to hold a Superfund Relocation Roundtable in Pensacola. She won the backing of more than 100 grassroots organizations. CATE began to get media coverage in the U.S. and in the foreign press. The Pensacola story became the "Black Love Canal." It was just a matter of time until EPA would have to give in and do the right thing. EPA nominated the Escambia Wood Treating Superfund site as the country's pilot program to help the agency develop a nationally consistent relocation policy that would consider not only toxic levels but welfare issues such as property values, quality of life, health and safety. In the end, EPA decided to bite the bullet and relocate all 358 households at the cost of $18 million.
Nigerian Doctor Continues Fight Against Environmental Injustice in Exile.
Dr. Owens Wiwa, M.D., is the brother of the late Nigerian writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP). Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed by the Nigerian military government on November 10, 1995. Owens Wiwa. A medical doctor and human rights activist, escaped Nigeria just days after his brother's execution. In his medial practice, Dr. Wiwa has been a resident in hospitals in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Bori and Taaban, and Ogoni. In 1990, he established two private rural health centers in Ogoni to care for the needs of the Ogoni people. In doing so, he treated hundreds of Ogoni men, women and children injured as a result of the ongoing military oppression. As a political activist, Dr. Wiwa has documented human rights abuses perpetrated upon the Ogoni people by the Nigerian army, as well as environmentally-related diseases among the Ogoni people as a result of Shell Oil Company's takeover of Ogoni land for drilling. He is a member of the steering committee of MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) and has held other posts in the Ogoni movement, including chairmanships of the Ogoni Health and Social Welfare Committee and the Ogoni Relief and Rehabilitation Committee. Dr. Wiwa is a spirited warrior and an inspiration to all who love and cherish freedom. His unbroken will is a guiding light to all African people in the Motherland and abroad. Too few African-Americans know of his work and of the on-the-ground struggle of the Ogoni people. As some 35 million strong with an annual purchasing power of nearly half a trillion dollars, African Americans owe it to Dr. Wiwa and the people of Ogoni to use our resources, expertise, and political muscle to fight against oppression and injustice in Nigeria as was the case in dismantling the evil system of apartheid in South Africa. Through Dr. Wiwa's leadership and example, we are inching closer to that goal.
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