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OP-ED: Stop Excluding People of Color in Environmental Policies

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Protecting the environment should be about protecting people, regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity or race, or where they live or how much money they make. The fight to save our planet should be about ensuring a long and successful sustainable future – for everyone.

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By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., President and CEO, National Newspaper Publishers Association

The deadly destruction wrought by the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the harsh inequities in American society, disproportionately ravaging Black America and other communities of color, as well as individuals who were on the social margins long before the crisis.

The inequities have surfaced in obvious ways, including early data released by states showing that the virus is killing African Americans at disproportionately high rates, a disturbing trend that illustrates the substandard availability of health care in Black America.

The inequities have also surfaced in subtle ways, such as policy decisions that fail to reflect the needs and day-to-day realities of low-income communities and communities of color. The irony is that many of these policies are well-meaning. But in some cases, they also have had troubling unintended consequences.

Consider the area of environmental policy. Protecting the environment should be about protecting people, regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity or race, or where they live or how much money they make. The fight to save our planet should be about ensuring a long and successful sustainable future – for everyone.

Yet, there are many in the mainstream environmental movement who continuously overlook the needs and realities faced by some of our most underserved and vulnerable communities. That includes the mainstream environmental advocacy community’s push to enforce plastic bags bans in favor of reusables, despite the fact that cardboard paper and other reusables pose a clear public health risk – especially for workers on the front lines of the pandemic response.

Why, for example, is it smart public policy to insist that grocery workers be exposed to reusable bags, when research shows these bags can be repositories of the COVID-19 virus? The majority of these essential workers are low-income people of color who are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, dying from the deadly disease at twice the rate of white people.

Additionally, in New York, it is well-documented that a statewide plastic bag ban also disproportionately hurts Black and Latino-owned businesses and shoppers. Though there is an exemption in this ban for recipients of benefits like WIC and food stamps from paying the five-cent tax on paper bags, working-class people of color and low-income New Yorkers still must pay.

Some stores have been charging for both plastic and paper, and in some cases, more than five cents a bag. Five cents might not seem like much. But five cents (or more) per bag adds up, especially when one is living paycheck-to-paycheck, or, as is more likely at this moment, not working at all due to the financial toll of the COVID-19 crisis.

Some environmentalists have argued that opponents of the bag ban are trying to capitalize on the COVID-19 crisis by recommending a suspension of any bag regulations. Again, it appears that some mainstream environmentalists only use research data to support policies that reflect their privileged vantage point without respect to the impact of those policies on the underprivileged.

I coined the term environmental racism in 1982 while involved in the Warren County, NC protests against the digging of a PCB landfill in the heart of a poor Black agricultural community.  At that time there were some who thought that environmental issues were should not be considered as civil rights or as racial justice issues. There was in the past, and it continues in the current public discourse, a kind of arrogance by the privileged who think they know what is best for the underprivileged.

Today as the environmental justice movement has grown into a global campaign for change led by grassroots activists and leaders from people of color communities throughout the world, we all now know much more about the intersection between the issues of racial justice and environmental justice.

I recall vividly back in the late 1980’s when I co-authored and published the landmark study for the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice: Toxic Waste and Race in the United States, the established environmental movement was unnerved that people of color would dare to do empirical research and define our own reality with respect to exposures to environmental hazards.  Our national study proved that there was a deliberate link between race and the placement of toxic waste facilities in America.

In adherence to a blind devotion to a privileged ideology, some who call themselves environmentalists often neglect to take into consideration the day-to-day concerns of millions of low-income and Americans of color living in urban centers that are also communities that house hazardous sanitation sites, incinerators, rail yards, power plants and other environmental threats.

Some mainstream environmental groups consistently insist on pushing for policies that make life harder for people of color and poor communities, arguing that the hardship – if they recognize it at all – is a necessary price to pay in order to achieve their overall goals that those of privilege have exclusively envisioned as the standard for all others to obey.

As the pandemic continues, we need to let go of high-minded ideological arguments and do everything possible to protect workers on the front lines – including grocery clerks and those who make deliveries. Some states have temporarily lifted their bans or eradicated them altogether. A number of grocery stores are bringing back plastic bags and telling customers not to bring their own reusable bags.

Due to the crisis, New York has twice extended non-enforcement of its plastic bag ban in the face of a lawsuit that challenges its constitutionality. This is not enough. The state should give essential workers and shoppers alike a sense of protection during the pandemic and bag the plastic ban altogether.

More often than not, these life-changing decisions are being made without the consultation or input from the affected communities of color. Close to 40 years later we still remain on the outside of these conversations, continuously overlooked by many in the mainstream environmental movement as well as in local and state governments.

There is an obvious divide between the members of the mainstream environmentalism movement and the environmental justice community, primarily made up of urban Black and brown people. Until both parties can come together and pay the necessary attention to the pervasive environmental concerns that our communities endure on a daily basis the rift will only deepen, if not completely fracture. Exclusion of people of color will not solve the nation’s or the world’s environmental challenges.

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Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.
The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Entertainment and Culture Editor

The documentary She Had A Dream by Tunisian filmmaker Raja Amari premieres on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange series tonight at 8 p.m. EST on WORLD CHANNEL. Season 14 of the acclaimed documentary series captures Black artists and activists shaping and reclaiming culture, advocating for change and mobilizing for brighter futures. She Had A Dream offers an intimate portrayal of one young Black Tunisian woman’s quest for political office and her fight against racism and oppression in a society that often seeks to overlook both.

The documentary follows Ghofrane, a 20-something Black woman from Tunisia as she walks the path of self-discovery of young adulthood while running for political office in a homeland where many still view her as an outsider.

Watch the trailer below:

A dedicated, charismatic activist and a modern, free-speaking woman, Ghofrane in many ways is the embodiment of contemporary Tunisian political hopes still alive years after the Arab Spring. She Had A Dream follows Ghofrane as she works to conquer her own self-doubts while attempting to persuade close friends and complete strangers to vote for her. As audiences follow her campaign, they also follow the dichotomies of her life as a woman striving for a role in politics in the Arab world and as a Black person in a country where racism is prevalent, yet often denied.

“The 14th season of AfroPoP shines a light on the collective power, strength and resilience of Black people and movements around the world,” said Leslie Fields-Cruz, AfroPoP executive producer. “Viewers will see artists use their platforms to push for progress and human rights and see ‘ordinary’ people do the remarkable in the interest of justice.”

Amari is one of these artists and Ghofrane is an activist. Exploring how racism has shaped her life in all aspects including her early school days, her romantic life and everyday activities, Amari’s film showcases how Ghofrane uses her experiences as impetus to work to bring change to her country for all people. A compassionate and hopeful exploration of the life and aspirations of Ghofrane, She Had A Dream sheds light on women’s roles in Tunisia’s changing society and one woman’s battle to create change for her community.

She Had A Dream airs on AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange Monday, April 11 at 8 p.m. ET on WORLD Channel and begins streaming on worldchannel.org at the same time.

AfroPoP: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange is presented by Black Public Media and WORLD Channel. For more information, visit worldchannel.org or blackpublicmedia.org.

This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Tunisia: Raja Amari’s ‘She Had a Dream’ Doc Premieres on AfroPoP first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena.
The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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BBC Africa is reporting Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, is facing a water shortage because of changing weather patterns and aging water facilities. The article reports, “Residents in informal communities like Kibra pay private vendors for water, meaning they now control the supply and access to water in the community.” The privatization of water access has led to an increase in the exploitation of women and girls in exchange for water.

“Sextortion” refers to sex being used as currency instead of money for services or products — in this case water. According to the Water Integrity Network (WIN), the testimonies collected from women over the past five years in Kibera and Mukuru Kwa Njenga, which are some of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi, point towards an invisible, unspoken, and sinister consequence of corruption in the water sector i.e. sextortion. Sex for water is not a new phenomena. Check out the 2018 ANEW documentary short below:

The water crisis and the sexual exploitation of girls and women as a result of the water crisis shows no signs of slowing down.

To read more about this crisis, visit BBC Africa‘s series of articles and videos on Kenya’s water crisis and the Water Integrity Network’s (WIN) study on sextortion.

This news brief was curated by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter or Instagram @TheBurtonWire.

The post Nairobi: Water Crisis Exploits Women & Girls first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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#WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright

THE AFRO — Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.
The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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By Maya Pottiger, Word in Black

It’s no surprise that we’re living through difficult times. After two years, we’re still in a global pandemic, which has predominantly impacted people of color. In addition, Book bans, attacks on critical race theory, and partisan political fights target everything from Black youths’ sexuality, to history, to health.

And we’re seeing the effects.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black youths ages 15 to 24, according to the Office of Minority Health. The same report found Black high school-aged girls were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide than their white peers. And, by June 2020, the CDC saw the rate of Black respondents who reported having “seriously considered suicide” was significantly higher.

For a variety of reasons — ongoing stigma, lack of insurance, most accessible — Black students often rely on the mental health services offered at school.Outside of a mental health-specific practice, Black students were nearly 600 times as likely to get mental health help in an academic setting compared to other options, according to 2020 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In fact, mental health services in schools have been steadily gaining popularity among students since 2009, before dropping slightly in 2020 when the school year was interrupted, according to the SAMHSA report. As a result, the rate of students receiving mental health care through school decreased by 14 percent in 2020 compared to 2019.

So how are schools changing the way they address and prioritize mental health — and the specific needs of Black students — since 2020?

The Renewed Focus on Mental Health

For school-aged people, the majority of their time is spent in a school building — about eight hours per day, 10 months out of the year. To help address mental health during academic hours, schools are trying to focus on social-emotional learning: self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills. This includes teaching kids how to be in touch with their emotions and protect against adverse mental health outcomes.

But it’s been difficult.

Though there’s been more conversation, the implementation is challenging, says Dr. Kizzy Albritton, an associate professor of school psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. There was already a shortage of school-based mental health professionals before the pandemic, which has now been exacerbated, as have mental health issues. In addition, though schools clearly recognize the importance of mental health, they aren’t always provided adequate resources.

“Unless there are more resources funneled into the school system, we’re going to see a continued catch-up issue across the board,” Albritton says. “And, unfortunately, our Black students are going to continue to suffer the most.”

In a survey of high school principals and students, Education Week Research Center found discrepancies in how principals and students viewed a school’s mental health services. While 86 percent of the principals said their schools provided services, only about 66 percent of students agreed. The survey did point out it’s possible the school offers these services and students aren’t aware. The survey also found Black and Latinx students were less likely than their peers to say their schools offered services.

Dr. Celeste Malone, the president-elect of the National Association for School Psychologists and a Howard University associate professor, says she hasn’t previously seen this degree of attention to mental health in schools.

“I see that a lot in my role for a school psychology graduate program: the outreach and people contacting me with openings where they didn’t exist previously,” Malone says. “With this increased push in funding to hire more, that’s definitely a very, very positive movement.”

Mental Health Is Not One Size Fits All

Just like with many aspects of health, Black youths need different mental health support from their peers of other races. They need a counselor who understands their lived experiences, like microaggressions and other forms of discrimination or racism, without the student having to explain.

For example, in order to best address the specific mental health needs of Black students, districts need to provide information breaking down mental health stigmas; focus on hiring Black counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals; and fund anti-racist and trauma-informed mental health practices, according to the Center for American Progress.

While she hears a lot of talk, Albritton says she isn’t seeing widespread evidence of these solutions in practice.

“There needs to be a willingness, first of all, to understand that our Black students, their needs look a lot different,” Albritton says. School officials need to understand where Black students are coming from — that their families and households experience systemic and structural racism, which are known to trigger anxiety and depression. The effects of the racial wealth gap also play a role, from the neighborhood kids are living in, to the schools they can attend to the impacts on their health. Students might be bringing worries about these challenges to school, which could be reflected in their behavior. This is why, Albritton says, it’s crucial to also work with students’ families.

The post #WordinBlack: Schools and Black Students’ Mental Health: The Kids Aren’t Alright appeared first on AFRO American Newspapers .

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