Mila K. Marshall

It seems like as a minority millennial we have our plates so full of daily politics digesting it all is almost impossible. Despite the mountain of legislative missteps that have angered many African Americans our resolve is ancestral and ceaseless. The recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is beyond alarming. As a woman of color living in a post-industrial city, I know all too well the degradation that unchecked industry imparts on living systems; both nature and people. Brown bodies breathe and ingest industrial toxins and pollutants, our food grows adjacent landfills and manufacturing plants all the while living in generational poverty.

We celebrate both birthdays and cancer remission in our community and contemplate how much healthy food we can afford while living in food deserts. What is evident is that the African American position regarding the environment is almost non-existent. When it comes to the state of Blacks and the Environment, there are bits and pieces of our struggle, some solutions to those struggles but little solidarity across the nation.

Have we learned nothing from the 1995 heat wave, Hurricane Katrina, the Flint water crisis and East Chicago, Indiana contamination. At all levels, we are frontline communities advocating for multiple issues in a system that is designed to subsidize sustainability with our poverty. It is our responsibility to lean upon our experts local and international studying the impacts of climate change on our Black communities and our Black bodies because the research is scarce and incomplete.

It is our responsibility to educate our legislators that it is not ok to allow factories to be placed in our communities where urban agriculture is seeding economic growth and land ethic for the revitalization of our neighborhoods.

This is an all call to institutions of higher learning, a call to our spiritual organizations, a call to our social organizations, a call to our media, a call to our health professionals, educators, minority legislators and allies that environmental conversations can no longer be issue based. Basically, we can’t solely wait until a catastrophe occurs to educate and place on our agenda and we can’t afford to not be intersectional.

We must see the connections between lead laced water and criminality and violence in efforts to address both issues. We must address the inequities of the burden of climate change and use the resources that are available to us to educate ourselves and the greater community. Many cities have adopted climate change plans, Chicago has the Chicago Climate Action Plan with accessible information on what the city is doing to hold itself and businesses responsible for a healthier environment. The national NAACP has been stellar at implementing their Environmental and Climate Justice Program which was “created to support community leadership in addressing this as a human and civil rights issue”.

Make no mistake millennial peers, we have our work cut out for us. Our energy towards addressing environmental issues must go beyond earth month and it is time that we develop a strategy for sustaining ourselves under the current administration and standing firm on what we see as a threat to our wellbeing and livelihoods.

Mila K. Marshall is a PhD candidate in Ecology at UIC. She also serves as the Director of Network Resilience for the the UIC Freshwater Lab and has been integral in advancing the conversation of healthy urban systems for addressing legacy issues of environmental injustice towards African Americans. 

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