ATLANTA — The National Wildlife Federation and partners hosted the second in a series of environmental justice and frontline community roundtables, with several elected officials joining leaders from Georgia and the Carolinas. The virtual meeting gathered more than 30 community advocates, local, county, state and federal officials, faith, youth and nonprofit leaders to explore how African Americans in cities like Atlanta, Augusta, Ga., Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, N.C., Columbia, S.C., Columbus, Ga., Durham, N.C., Greensboro, N.C., Macon, Ga., Raleigh, N.C., and Spartanburg, S.C. are coping, planning and preparing forward thinking to resume conservation practices, policies, education and engagement.
“The COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated the health and environmental challenges facing frontline communities and communities of color — and underscored why we need to have real conversations with people about the solutions they need and how to get there,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s important to support our frontline communities to endure through this incredibly challenging time. We need to seize the opportunity to respond in ways that create a smarter, more resilient and more nature-based future through equitable and just recovery packages that enable our most vulnerable to move from surviving to thriving.”
“Ironically, a global health crisis that likely started with the wild animal trade and habitat devastation, has been especially devastating on U.S. urban centers,” said Simone Lightfoot, national director of urban initiatives and environmental justice for the National Wildlife Federation. “Particularly in those cities where the National Wildlife Federation is established, it only makes sense that we would lead the charge and connect stakeholders across our vast network. Although we focus on wildlife conservation, first and foremost we are facing a human tragedy.”
“The current pandemic casts a sharp light on the inequities already present in our communities in public health, education, economic opportunity, and access to environmental resources,” said U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.). “It is clear that as we address the consequences of this crisis through legislation, we must ensure that these funds are used efficiently, effectively, and equitably. We ought to do all we can to make America’s greatness both accessible and affordable for all Americans.”
National partners supporting the series of roundtables include American Public Health Association, Amnesty International, NAACP, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Participants included U.S. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.); South Carolina State Rep. Gilda Cobb Hunter; U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.); South Carolina State Rep. JA Moore; North Carolina Secretary of Environmental Quality Michael S. Regan; Veronica Bitting, Neighbors For Better Neighborhoods; Barrett Brown, Alamance County, NC NAACP; Ernest Coverson, End Gun Violence Campaign/Amnesty International; Felicia Davis, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; Kerri L. Forrest, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation; Dr. Bambi W. Gaddist, Wright Wellness Center; Al George, South Carolina Aquarium; Nakisa Glover, Sol Nation; Kimberly Gutzler, National Children’s Campaign; Dr. Latecia Abraham-Hilaire, Medical University of South Carolina; Brandon Hunter, Duke University; Dr. Na'Taki Osbourne Jelks, Spelman College & West Atlanta Watershed Alliance; Crystal Jennings, National Wildlife Federation; Dr. Keith Jennings, Clark-Atlanta University & African American Human Rights Institute; Dr. Valerie A. Johnson, Shaw University; Crystal A Cavalier-Keck, Eastern Woodland Association & Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation; Andrea Manning, National Children's Campaign; Harold Mitchell, ReGenesis Environmental Justice Partnership; Naeema Muhammad, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network; Makeda M. Okolo, NOAA Office for Coastal Management; Reverend Nelson B. Rivers III, Charity Missionary Baptist Church & National Action Network; Camil Williams, Artist & Barber; Omega and Brenda Wilson, West End Revitalization Association; and Reverend Leo Woodberry, New Alpha Community Development Corporation.
The event provided a forum to discuss the intersection of conservation issues — such as biodiversity, habitats, farming and agriculture — with justice issues such as urban community mental and public health, COVID-19, housing, jobs, education, voting, brown and green infrastructure, water affordability and shutoffs. Through its work focusing on urban initiatives and environmental justice, the National Wildlife Federation recognizes that all of these factors are interrelated.
“The same system that allowed for the continuing harm caused by COVID-19 is the same system that murdered George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery,” said Nakisa Glover, founder and executive director of Sol Nation. “And it is that same system that has been causing the harms associated with climate injustices, widening gaps in education, digital literacy, economic mobility, the effects of the prison industrial complex and food insecurity. It’s all connected. What's the mask that's going to protect us from all of these?”
“The challenges of poverty, pollution, food insecurity, high utility burdens and lack of equitable access to resources that help communities thrive and scale up resilience in the face of climate change have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Na'Taki Osbourne Jelks, co-founder and board chairperson of West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. “Frontline EJ communities, particularly those in the Southeast United States, are disproportionately impacted by these systemic issues, but given access to the resources we need for recovery, we can develop and implement our own sustainable solutions to these far-reaching impediments.”
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