Environmental justice is a right, not a choice!


Written by Katherine Dennis, a Nashville native and the Little Rock SoS Garden Manager!

This past week has been our orientation & training week for the Little Rock Summer of Solutions team. We have gone through a myriad of trainings including community organizing, conflict resolution, and social entrepreneurship.

One of the most meaningful trainings in which we participated was focused around environmental justice. I have studied this topic academically, and I understand what it generally means: how the environmental and people interact, and is it just. That is a really naive definition, and so I googled it to find out a little more about what it means. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Okay, this is another academic definition, and I’m going to try and break it down a bit. Are people being treated fairly, regardless of their income, race, etc., in terms of the development and policies that are affecting them? I can think of national examples: The Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, AR on March 29, 2013 that killed flora and fauna. Another example are the oil operations in Niger that have spilled oil slowly over the past twenty years, thus, destroying their precious ecosystems. I understand environmental justice on the global scale, but how does it affect singular neighborhoods in the US?

More specifically, what challenges do people in the 12th & Oak neighborhood face in regards to environmental justice and injustice? We had an environmental justice seminar led by Reverend Malik Saafir, who is appointed at Hoover UMC, which is located in the heart of the 12th & Oak neighborhood. He started off the talk giving us some perspective: being born in the USA, I am in a double bind. I am fighting for environmental justice, yet I am perpetuating the environmental injustice. I am the reason they are drilling for oil in Niger; without that oil, how would I sustain my lifestyle? Without the oil being transported through Mayflower, how would I drive my car to the grocery store where most of my food contains corn byproducts?


Malik told us that 80% of the world’s population (excluding North America and Western Europe), live in slums. That puts the environmental justice movement in perspective! And from this point of view, we are all connected. This just fuels the fire for working for environmental justice! The next interesting point that Malik discussed is the fact that doesn’t environmental justice mean that we should not have to beg for basic rights, that it is a RIGHT, not a CHOICE. This was the first time I had ever even thought about it like this. If having access to education is a right, then it changes the game. All the sudden, I wouldn’t have to take out a loan. Because it is a choice, I had to take out a loan. If I have a right to access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables in my local grocery store, no matter where I live, all the sudden, I can afford to buy the nutritious produce. This is awesome!!

On a related note, Malik taught us a term that will help us be more empathetic with the population we are serving: reactionary suicide. This is the attitude that one adopts if they know they are going to die anyway. An example is if someone develops diabetes, and instead of changing their lifestyle and diet, they just adopt an apathetic attitude. This reactionary suicide represents that the person is not taking control of their life. This brings up an interesting thought because it can represent that someone’s diet choices stem deeper than just the surface. If someone is choosing to hurt their body, it could be because of emotional or psychological factors. This is something to consider when we are working with people; to not just assume that what is on the surface is accurately depicting their inner state.

As my last comment, I will share the three points that Malik told us about how adults change. He has learned these over the last 20 years, so listen up, internet world! This is valuable information:
1) Critical awareness – i.e. education
2) A catastrophe or crisis happens – somebody loses a job, and thus are forced to live simply
3) Children – if you can get children passionate about something, no one argues with them

Thanks for reading! I’ll leave you with a thought that Malik told us: If every American only ate meat three days a week, we would be able to reallocate the resources and feed the whole world. What do you think about this?

Peas and carrots,
Katherine Dennis


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