BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The National Wildlife Federation and partners hosted the fourth in a series of environmental justice and frontline community roundtables, with elected officials joining leaders from Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. The virtual meeting gathered 20 community advocates, local, county, state and federal officials, faith, youth, and nonprofit leaders to explore how people of color in cities like Africatown, Ala.; Birmingham, Ala.; Dothan, Ala.; Huntsville, Ala.; Selma, Ala.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Miami; Pensacola, Fla.; Titusville, Fla.; Columbia, Miss.; and Jackson, Miss. 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, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Children’s Campaign, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, National Environmental Justice Journal, Blue Green Alliance, and Union of Concerned Scientists. Local partners include Major Joe Womack U.S.M.C. (ret.), executive director of Africatown-C.H.E.S.S. (Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe & Sustainable Communities), and Ms. LaFanette Soles-Wood and Mr. Tony McCrae of Wedgewood Community in Pensacola, Fla.
Participants included Major Joe Womack, Bridge The Gulf; Hon. John Hilliard, Birmingham City Council; Professor Jacqueline Gray Miller, Miles College; Hon. Sheila Tyson, Jefferson County Commission; Letetia Jackson Daniel, Alabama’s Black Women’s Roundtable; Hon. Will Culver, Huntsville City Council; Ms. Alice Sams, Project Focus; Rev. Leotis Strong, Brown Chapel AME, Selma; Wynetta Wright, Eastside Environmental Council; Caroline Lewis, The CLEO Institute; Diana Fernandez, National Children’s Campaign; Tony McCray, Ibis Community Development Corporation; LaFanette Soles-Wood, Wedgewood Community; Salandra Benton, Florida’s Black Women Roundtable; Professor Richard Gragg, Florida A&M University; Dr. Charlotte Keys, Jesus People Against Pollution; Hon. DeKeither Stamps, Jackson City Council; Cassandra Overton Welchlin, Mississippi’s Black Women’s Roundtable; Ernest Coverson, Amnesty International; and Dr. Sacoby Wilson, University of Maryland – College Park.
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.
"Our government has long ignored frontline environmental justice communities and communities of color, a fact that has been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Diana Fernandez, policy team member for the National Children’s Campaign. “Issues of racial and economic inequity in healthcare, education, the labor market and more have all been exacerbated by the coronavirus, clearly demonstrating that systemic changes are necessary in order to help our communities recover from the pandemic. These roundtables are so important because they provide a platform for those who have been hit the hardest by COVID-19 to share our stories and clearly articulate the policy solutions that our communities need."
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