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Environmental Justice Advocates Say Climate Change isn’t a ‘White Thing’

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Far too often it is our communities – Black and Brown communities – that are not prepared enough, resilient enough, or adaptive enough when climate disasters hit,” Mabson said. “We look at the devastating impacts from Hurricane Katrina, and more recently Hurricane’s Maria, Harvey, and Dorian, and we see communities that look like ours, nearly destroyed,” said Michelle Mabson, a staff scientist for the Healthy Communities Program at Earthjustice.

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It is critical that African American, if they aren't already, become aware of all of the ways climate change shows up in their lives.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The climate crisis is real.

From the devastating of extreme weather events made worse by climate change to the public health implications of increased pollution like heightened asthma attacks, communities are feeling the impacts of this crisis first and worst.

Experts said real solutions to the climate crisis is needed now to protect the long-term well-being of communities, and for future generations.

“With the Trump administration rolling back environmental and public health safeguards, I am deeply concerned that we are running out of time to do something about this crisis,” said Dana Swinney, a New York-based public relations expert who works with several green organizations across the country.

Information provided by Swinney’s firm noted additional climate crisis health impacts on African Americans, including:

  • Number of African Americans that report having asthma: 2.6 million
  • Black children are 4.5 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than white children
  • Black children are ten times more likely to die from asthma than white children.
  • The increased health burden of particulate air pollution on African Americans compared to the American population overall: 54 percent
  • Sixty-eight percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.
  • 7 million African Americans live within a county that is home to a refinery.

“There is a familiar phrase that goes something like this: if you’re not at the table then you’re on the menu,” said Michelle Mabson, a staff scientist for the Healthy Communities Program at Earthjustice.

Mabson is also a volunteer chief advocacy officer for Black Millennials for Flint.

“Far too often it is our communities – Black and Brown communities – that are not prepared enough, resilient enough, or adaptive enough when climate disasters hit,” Mabson said.

“We look at the devastating impacts from Hurricane Katrina, and more recently Hurricane’s Maria, Harvey, and Dorian, and we see communities that look like ours, nearly destroyed,” she said.

“It is imperative for us to be at the table when decisions, like rebuilding and increasing adaptive community capacity, are discussed so we can get the resources we need to be prepared for the impacts from the next storm. Make no mistake, the next one is on its way, and we can no longer afford to react once it’s here – we’ve got to be prepared,” Mabson said.

African Americans must heavily engage in climate justice and environmental conversation taking place globally, said Heather McTeer Toney, the national field director at Mom Clean Airforce.

More than half of the African American population live in the south, where they’re four times more likely to be hit with catastrophic flood, hurricane or other extreme weather-related event, Toney said.

“As the impacts of climate change increase, more and more of our communities are devastated. Moreover, An NAACP study found that African American communities are subjected to air that is 40 percent more polluted than other communities,” Toney said.

“When combined with the health impacts such as asthma, cancer, and heart disease; addressing the climate crisis is vital to our continued existence and protection of our children’s future,” she said.

Toney added that it’s not too late to act.

“Climate action is the social justice movement of our time. African-Americans should demand action from state, local and federal leaders on climate action now,” Toney said.

“We must support 100 percent clean energy and require equity in policy that promotes a clean energy economy. We prepare for extreme weather emergencies by working with our churches and community organization to develop action plans for severe weather events,” she said.

Further, “we must talk about ways to become more resilient and sustainable in our home, churches, and schools. We must vote often and always for candidates that talk about climate action now. Our voices are necessary for this movement, and together we can ensure climate safety for generations to come,” Toney said.

Kim Noble, the director of operations for Green The Church, said environmental justice touches on many issues, including climate, the economy, health, social, and racial injustices.

African Americans learned about racism and injustices at an early age, and some know what being marginalized feels like, Noble said.

“We have folks in environmental justice communities that feel that way every day,” she said.

“When we’re having conversations about the environment, climate change, pollution, and climate policy, we have to include the people who are most impacted – our black and brown families,” Noble said.

“For far too long, our communities have been on the receiving end of the devastating impacts of climate change and pollution. For example, our communities tend to live near power plants and other types of polluting plants which emit toxic air into the environment. These are making our families sick,” she said.

Noble continued:

“It’s not that our communities are looking for homes located near power plants, but rather it’s a regular practice to place dirty emitters into communities of color and often in neighborhoods where low-income families live.

“That’s not fair. As a nation, we can do better. We know those clean energy solutions work. We need climate policy that supports 100 percent clean energy and cleans up the air so we can breathe. We also need policy that leads to good green jobs in our communities.”

The current election cycle is crucial for several reasons, said Kerene N. Tayloe, an environmental justice and clean energy solutions advocate for WE ACT.

The election presents a great chance to mobilize votes for candidates who are not climate deniers and understand the need to address environmental justice, she said.

“We must become active at the local level where so many decisions about land development and water infrastructure, for instance, are decided,” Tayloe said.

“We should also be keenly aware of how the demand for energy efficiency, renewable and clean energy can create jobs right in our communities. We must lead in the creation of solutions to ensure that the benefits flow creating opportunities for economic development.”

Tayloe said caring about the climate is not a “white thing.”

It is critical that African American, if they aren’t already, become aware of all of the ways climate change shows up in their lives, she said.

“Those record hurricanes, storms, flooding, extreme heat, and bitterly cold days that we are experiencing are because of climate change. In addition to climate change, for far too long black and brown communities have been the sacrifice zones for wealthier and frankly whiter communities,” Tayloe said.

“It is not a coincidence that our communities are disproportionately the location of dangerous toxic facilities and are adjacent to the busiest highways. All of these systemic problems impact our health, our property value, and the ability to gain economic independence,” she said.

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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Children’s Defense Fund: State of America’s Children Reveals that 71 Percent of Children of Color Live in Poverty

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

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Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)
Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

Part One of an ongoing series on this impactful and informative report.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The child population in America is the most diverse in history, but children remain the poorest age group in the country with youth of color suffering the highest poverty rates.

“While we reported on the 73 million children in the U.S. in 2019, which is 22 percent of the nation’s population, we also note that 2020 was the first year in American history that a majority of children are projected to be children of color,” said the Rev. Dr. Starsky Wilson, the president and CEO of the Children’s Defense Fund.

Dr. Wilson’s remarks come as the Marian Wright Edelman founded nonprofit released “The State of America’s Children 2021.”

The comprehensive report is eye-opening.

It highlights how children remain the poorest age group in America, with children of color and young children suffering the highest poverty rates. For instance, of the more than 10.5 million poverty-stricken children in America in 2019, approximately 71 percent were those of color.

The stunning exposé revealed that income and wealth inequality are growing and harming children in low-income, Black and Brown families.

While the share of all wealth held by the top one percent of Americans grew from 30 percent to 37 percent, the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from 33 percent to 23 percent between 1989 and 2019.

Today, a member of the top 10 percent of income earners makes about 39 times as much as the average earner in the bottom 90 percent.

The median family income of White households with children ($95,700) was more than double that of Black ($43,900), and Hispanic households with children ($52,300).

Further, the report noted that the lack of affordable housing and federal rental assistance leaves millions of children homeless or at risk of homelessness.

More than 1.5 million children enrolled in public schools experienced homelessness during the 2017-2018 school year, and 74 percent of unhoused students during the 2017-2018 school year were living temporarily with family or friends.

Millions of children live in food-insecure households, lacking reliable access to safe, sufficient, and nutritious food, and more than 1 in 7 children – 10.7 million – were food insecure, meaning they lived in households where not everyone had enough to eat.

Black and Hispanic children were twice as likely to live in food-insecure households as White children.

The report further found that America’s schools have continued to slip backwards into patterns of deep racial and socioeconomic segregation, perpetuating achievement gaps.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 public school year, 19 percent of Black, 21 percent of Hispanic, and more than 26 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native school students did not graduate on time compared with only 11 percent of White students.

More than 77 percent of Hispanic and more than 79 percent of Black fourth and eighth grade public school students were not proficient in reading or math in 2019, compared with less than 60 percent of White students.

“We find that in the course of the last year, we’ve come to the point where our conversations about child well-being and our dialogue and reckoning around racial justice has really met a point of intersection, and so we must consider child well-being in every conversation about racial justice and quite frankly you can only sustainably speak of racial justice if we’re talking about the state of our children,” Dr. Wilson observed.

Some more of the startling statistics found in the report include:

  • A White public school student is suspended every six seconds, while students of color and non-White students are suspended every two seconds.
  • Conditions leading to a person dropping out of high school occur with white students every 19 seconds, while it occurs every nine seconds for non-White and students of color.
  • A White child is arrested every 1 minute and 12 seconds, while students of color and non-whites are arrested every 45 seconds.
  • A White student in public school is corporally punished every two minutes, while students of color and non-Whites face such action every 49 seconds.

Dr. Wilson asserted that federal spending “reflects the nation’s skewed priorities.”

In the report, he notes that children are not receiving the investment they need to thrive, and despite making up such a large portion of the population, less than 7.5 percent of federal spending went towards children in fiscal year 2020.

Despite Congress raising statutory caps on discretionary spending in fiscal years 2018 to 2020, children did not receive their fair share of those increases and children’s share of total federal spending has continued to decline.

“Children continue to be the poorest segment of the population,” Dr. Wilson demanded. “We are headed into a dark place as it relates to poverty and inequity on the American landscape because our children become the canary in the coal mine.”

Dr. Wilson did note that the Children’s Defense Fund is pleased about President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which, among other things, makes it easier for parents to keep their jobs and provides a lifeline for disadvantaged children.

The $1.9 trillion plan not only contained $1,400 checks for individuals, it includes monthly allowances and other elements to help reduce child poverty.

The President’s plan expands home visitation programs that help at-risk parents from pregnancy through early childhood and is presents universal access to top-notch pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds.

“The American Rescue Plan carried significant and powerful anti-poverty messages that will have remarkable benefits on the lives of children in America over the course of the next two years,” Dr. Wilson declared.

“The Children’s Defense Fund was quick to applaud the efforts of the President. We have worked with partners, including leading a child poverty coalition, to advance the ideas of that investment,” he continued.

“Most notably, the expansion of the child tax credit which has the impact of reducing poverty, lifting more than 50 percent of African American children out of poverty, 81 percent of Indigenous children, 45 percent of Hispanic children. It’s not only good policy, but it’s specifically good policy for Black and Brown children.”

Click here to view the full report.

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She Bought Freedom for Herself and Other Slaves Today a Park is Named in Her Honor

Alethia Browning Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised. 

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Alethia Browning Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

In her early years, Alethia Browning Tanner sold vegetables in a produce stall near President’s Square – now known as Lafayette Square – in what is now Northwest Washington, D.C.

According to the D.C. Genealogy Research, Resources, and Records, Tanner bought her freedom in 1810 and later purchased several relatives’ release.

She was the first woman on the Roll of Members of the Union Bethel AME Church (now Metropolitan AME Church on M Street), and Turner owned land and a store at 14th and H Streets, which she left to her nephews – one of whom later sold the property for $100,000.

Named in her honor, the Alethia Tanner Park is located at 227 Harry Thomas Way in Northeast DC.

The park sits near the corner of Harry Thomas Way and Q Street and is accessible by foot or bike via the Metropolitan Branch Trail, just north of the Florida Ave entrances.

“The first Council legislative meeting of Black History Month, the Council took a second and final vote on naming the new park for Alethia Tanner, an amazing woman who is more than worthy of this long-delayed recognition,” Ward 5 Councilman Kenyan McDuffie said in 2020 ahead of the park’s naming ceremony.

“[Her upbringing] itself would be a remarkable legacy, but Ms. Tanner was also active in founding and supporting many educational, religious, and civic institutions,” McDuffie remarked.

“She contributed funds to start the first school for free Black children in Washington, the Bell School. Feeling unwelcome at her predominately segregated church, she & other church members founded the Israel Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. When the church fell on hard times and was sold at auction by creditors, she and her family stepped in and repurchased the church.”

Born in 1781 on a plantation owned by Tobias and Mary Belt in Prince George’s County, Maryland, historians noted that Tanner had two sisters, Sophia Bell and Laurena Cook.

“Upon the death of Mary Pratt (Tobias had predeceased his wife) in 1795, the plantation, known as Chelsea Plantation, was inherited by their daughter Rachel Belt Pratt,” historians wrote.

“Mary Belt’s will stipulated that Laurena be sent to live with a sibling of Rachel Pratt’s while Sophia and Alethia were to stay at the Chelsea Plantation.”

Tanner sold vegetables at the well-known market just north of the White House in Presidents Park. It is possible – and probable – she met Thomas Jefferson there as he was known to frequent the vegetable markets there along with other prominent early Washingtonians, according to historians at attacksadams.com. 

“There are also White House records suggesting she worked for Thomas Jefferson in some capacity, likely doing various housework tasks,” the researchers determined.

Tanner saved enough money to purchase her freedom in 1810. “The total amount, thought to have been paid in installments, was $1,400. In 1810, $1,400 was a significant amount; about the equivalent of three years’ earnings for an average skilled tradesperson,” attucksadams.com researchers surmised.

“Self-emancipation was not an option for all enslaved peoples, but both Alethia and her sister Sophia were able to accomplish this, almost entirely through selling vegetables at the market,” the researchers continued.

“Alethia Tanner moved to D.C. and became one of a significant and growing number of free Black people in the District. In 1800, 793 free Black people were living in D.C.

By 1810, there were 2,549, and by 1860, 11,131 free Black people lived in D.C., more than the number of enslaved peoples.”

Historians wrote that beginning at about 15 years after securing her manumission, Alethia Tanner worked to purchase the freedom of more than 20 of her relatives and neighbors, mostly the family of her older sister Laurana including Laurana herself, her children, and her grandchildren.

All in all, Tanner would have paid the Pratt family well over $5,000. All accomplished with proceeds from her own vegetable market business, they concluded.

“Alethia Tanner, it’s an amazing story of resilience, hard work, and perseverance,” D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation Director Delano Hunter said at the park’s dedication.

“I just learned about this history through this, so it shows how when you name a park, you really educate people on the historical significance.”

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