NEW ORLEANS — The National Wildlife Federation and partners hosted the third in a series of environmental justice and frontline community roundtables, with elected officials joining leaders from Louisiana and Texas. The virtual meeting gathered nearly 20 community advocates, local, county, state and federal officials, faith, youth and nonprofit leaders to explore how people of color in cities like Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Corpus Christi, Texas; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Fort Worth, Texas; Grambling, La.; Houston; New Orleans; Port Arthur, Texas; Shreveport, La.; and San Antonio 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.”
National partners supporting the series of roundtables include American Public Health Association, Amnesty International, NAACP, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition of Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Participants included U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas); Mayor Sharon Weston Broome of Baton Rouge, La.; Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, U.S. Army, Retired; Louisiana State Rep. Edward C. “Ted” James, II; Charles Allen, National Audubon Society; Ernest Coverson, Amnesty International; Dr. Waneene C. Dorsey, Grambling State University; Arthur Johnson, Lower 9th Ward Center For Sustainable Engagement; Janie Jones, rural water advocate; Hilton Kelley, Community In-Power and Development Association Inc.; Faye Matthews, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program, National Wildlife Federation; Tamara Foster-Montgomery, Southern University and A & M College; Yolian Ogbu, National Children’s Campaign; Juan Parras, TEJAS; Isidro Quiroz, migrant farmworker; Dr. Sacoby Wilson, University of Maryland School of Public Health; and Dr. Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
The event provided a forum to discuss the intersection of conservation issues — such as flooding, biodiversity, habitats, farming and agriculture — with justice issues such as urban community mental and public health, COVID-19, housing, jobs, education, voting, migrant labor rights, 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.
“In this era of combating systemic racism, we must not ignore environmental racism that is choking Black children and adults who die disproportionately from respiratory diseases linked to toxic air pollution,” said Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “Where we live, work, learn, play and worship, air pollution increases the risk of death from COVID-19 and worsens climate change. We need philanthropic allies who understand that Black lives matter.”
“Education must not be taught, it must be imposed,” said Dr. Waneene C. Dorsey, Professor of Environmental Toxicology, Department of Biological Sciences at Grambling State University.
“The Environmental Protection Agency should be a nonpartisan agency,” said Hilton Kelley, Executive Director and Founder, Community In-Power and Development Association Inc. “When the EPA can’t do its job because of politics, thousands of people die prematurely.”
“The only one who will save us is us,” said Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, U.S. Army, Retired. “We must find a solution to pollution, to save Mother Earth.”
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