Growing HBCU Voices on Climate Change
A twelve-member delegation made up of six (6) African American students from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), academics, human rights advocates, researchers, policy analysts, and environmental and climate justice leaders attended the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (COP17) Conference in Durban, South Africa, November 28 – December 9, 2011. Dr. Beverly Wright, executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) at Dillard University and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University organized the trip to help raise climate justice awareness and develop student leaders on HBCU campuses.
The HBCU Climate initiative was started in the wake of numerous intense storms, floods and other climate related disasters in recent years. Most HBCUs are located in southern states – a vulnerable region impacted by hurricanes, drought, flooding, and other natural disasters. Climate-related disasters are increasing in the south more than other regions in the US. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi, were ranked within the top 15 most disaster declared states across the country, with 4 states being in the top 10. Studies show that climate change imposes the greatest health risks and biggest financial burden on people of color.
Reflections submitted by student delegates
Oluremi Abiodun’s Bio
My name is Oluremi Abiodun, or Remi, and I am a sophomore psychology pre-law major and Spanish minor from New Orleans, LA. I spend my spare time dancing whether for fun or with the Spelman College Dance Theater. I also have a passion for educational advocacy and community service specifically in the interest of children. My career goal is to become a juvenile attorney. However on a more personal note, based on my Christian values and civic duty, I would like to use my life and work for the betterment of all lives I touch whether on a personal or professional level. I am currently a member of Actively Changing Tomorrow through Service, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society, and a lifetime member of Girl Scouts of the USA.
I remember my first day of environmental science class three years ago. My teacher started off with a quote that changed my perception on life as it relates to environmental issues.
"The earth was not given to us by our parents, it was loaned to us by our children." - Kenyan proverb
The opportunity to attend the United Nations Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa is an honor, privilege and blessing that I do not take for granted. This once in a lifetime opportunity allows me to use my passion for community service to represent Spelman College, HBCUs, and the United States. I have taken intense environmental science courses in my educational matriculation out of interest in how it relates to the betterment of humanity. I do not consider myself a “tree-hugger,” but rather aware of how my actions don’t just affect the earth now, but the earth and life in which my children and their children will live also. Sometimes we, as human beings, take the earth and its resources for granted. It’s our home, the way we make a living, what we eat, what we breathe, and even how we have fun and make memories. For example, as a lifelong New Orleans resident, Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil Spill tremendously affected my life. In New Orleans these tragedies hurt our tourism, fishing industry, oil industry, and port which in turn affects the economy, culture, and lives of its residents. Climate change and environmental sustainability are real and so relevant. I have a responsibility to take care of the earth because it determines the physical, mental and emotional well-being of humanity.
Eboni Barnes Bio
My name is Eboni Barnes, a Master of Public Administration candidate currently attending Texas Southern University. Sustainability is not just an interest of mine; it is a part of my lifestyle. While I am an advocate of environmental sustainability, I am particularly passionate about the social and economic changes that can occur as result of the exploration of energy alternatives and renewable resources. For these reasons and more, I am appreciative to have a chance to participate in the United Nation’s Climate Summit, COP17, in Durban South Africa. Not many people can attest to having an occupation that they enjoy. Words cannot explain how optimistic and energized I am to have career interest that I will enjoy without a doubt throughout the entire span of my profession. As a prospective public administrator, I have aspirations of creating comprehensive strategies and environmental policies both domestically and internationally, especially in underdeveloped areas that are abundant in natural resources, but vulnerable to exploitation.
My interest in community services and environmental policy lead me to my first love, journalism. The significance of communication as a global tool is invaluable. With words one can effectively persuade, negotiate, mobilize, influence a positive change and most importantly educate a large population. I earned a B.S in journalism from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and in 2010 enrolled into the M.P.A. program at TSU to broaden my understanding of public policy. By attending the conference, I can sharpen my understanding of infrastructure projects that could possibly be integrated with sustainability techniques for the future. I consider myself to be a change agent whose greatest asset is problem solving. At TSU I am both a Teaching Assistant for the Executive Master of Public Administration Program (eMPA), an online MPA program for public and private Public Administration professionals, as well as a Graduate Research Assistant where I investigate various economic, technological and public policy topics. Some of the most recent projects include studies on redistricting data for the City of Houston, ethnic voting patterns and technological trends in the government from a management perspective. I am trainable, innovative, and capable of identifying problems and solutions, as well as well trained in data analysis and projections. Some of my research Projects include, The Pedagogy of the Web 3.0: Measuring Effectiveness and Efficiency of the Semantic Web in Public Administration and A Comparative Analysis: The Use of Technology in Hazard Mitigation Plans Between FEMA and Texas Municipalities.
A chance to travel to South Africa to study environmental policies abroad would strengthen my understanding of infrastructure and policy outside of my disciple. This is truly a once in lifetime opportunity and I truly appreciative of this experience. I’m excited to be a part of a group of like minded students who have a desire to take the lead on climate change and other environmental issues.
Brittani Flowers Bio
My name is Brittani Flowers and I am a 2012 Graduate Candidate at Texas Southern University School of Public Affairs. I am a recent transplant from Seattle Washington and after relocating to Houston Texas in 2009, I was determined to make a difference in my new home. I started NotTrash a recycle removal service in the Houston area in the summer of 2009. I have been featured on Going Green with Yolanda Green, in Envy magazine, the Houston Chronicle, on KPFT and several local newspapers and magazines. I started NotTrash because I felt there was a need for more recycling education as well as, a removal service. Utilizing social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkdin, not only allowed me to build a sustainable business but allowed my message about protecting the environment to be heard around the world. While continuing in my studies, I plan to use my voice to speak for those who are unable to speak for themselves, and change the way we view and respect our living environment.
Studies suggest that developed nations consume up to 80 percent of natural resources, while accounting for 20 percent on the total world population. In many urban areas the same can be said about the inequality seen in the disbursement of resources and wealth in America. Recent data also suggest that many of the poor and disenfranchised live in areas most affected by climate change and environmental hazards.
Attending the UN climate change conference in Durban, South Africa will have major implications on the rest of my life. To be a part of COP17 and experience the energy surrounding the decision making and amendments to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol will prove to be an invaluable experience, for myself and my community. Being in attendance will allow me to learn what it takes to combat climate change on a global level and prepare me to return to Houston and begin making changes on a local level.
My goals after attending the conference would be to take what I have learned to develop a protocol on campus. Requesting a commitment from faculty, student leaders and administrative staff to reduce waste and promote sustainability throughout the entire campus, this would be in a combined effort to stimulate the University and the surrounding community of third ward; where Texas Southern University is located. The third ward in Houston is historically known for its poor and disenfranchised neighborhoods, the people affected most by climate change. To be able to enhance the entire community through education, social networking and an appreciation for the natural environment surrounding third ward would be the greatest accomplishment and appreciation for the opportunity to attend COP17, in Durban South Africa.
Imani Hester Bio
My name is Imani Hester. I am from New Orleans, Louisiana and am a sophomore psychology major, minoring in sociology at Spelman College. My passion is centered around preparing today’s youth for success in the future. Towards this end, I mentor in my community and by encourage other college students to invest in the lives of children. During the summer of 2011 I worked as a sixth grade math teacher with the Breakthrough Collaborative in New Orleans, LA. The Breakthrough Collaborative is a national non-profit whose mission is to prepare middle school students for rigorous high schools and to promote educational advocacy among high school and college students. This experience reaffirmed my belief that I am destined to be a positive force in the lives of middle school and high school students. I intend to continue to work with students both inside and outside of the classroom. All of my new experiences lead me to wonder how I can use my life to enrich the life of another. I am currently a Spelman College Campus Recruiter for the Breakthrough Collaborative and am an active member of the Spelman College Honors Program Student Association and the Morehouse Education Association.
Being selected as a HBCU Environment and Climate Justice Initiative Scholar by the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice is a great honor. I am always excited to represent HBCUs and will work to make members of the global community aware of the presence and influence of students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Attending the United Nations Climate Summit highlights two of the values of Spelman College that I hope close to my heart; globalization and sustainability. I consider myself a global citizen and understand that what is happening in any part of the world is affecting everyone in the world. The idea of sustainability emphasizes treating the world well so that further generations will have a world that they deserve. By learning how these global issues are negotiated by the United Nations, I will be able to serve as a teacher for those are not knowledgeable of environmental justice issues. I will use the knowledge I gain from this experience to encourage other youth to become advocates for environmental justice.
Stephawn C. Spears Bio
My name is Stephawn Christopher Spears. I was born and raised in the city of New Orleans. I am currently a junior at Dillard University. My major is Mass Communications with a concentration in Film Studies. I love everything about media especially film and radio. I’m working hard to become one of the greatest filmmakers and radio personalities of all times. I am a new but strong activist in environmental justice as well as a community youth organizer. I love my family dearly and thank God for them daily. I live by the second commandment Jesus gave to the Pharisees and that was to “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” I live and breathe this because to me love covers a multitude (especially God’s love) and I always do my best to show love and give love. I also like to do stand-up comedy in my spare time. One of my favorite quotes is by Former President Franklin D. Roosevelt; he said “Confidence... thrives on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection and on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.”
Being an Environmental Justice Scholar and being a part of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University has truly opened my eyes to many disadvantages minorities are faced with regarding environmental pollution from industry. Even though I am a new activist for environmental justice and climate change, I have been working extremely hard to bring more awareness to the issue of environmental racism. I am grateful and truly blessed to work with and be mentored by Dr. Beverly Wright who along with others, have pioneered the cause for environmental justice for minorities. With this scholarship, I am able to not only continue my education at Dillard University but I am also charged to educate my peers and others on such a critical topic.
Environmental Justice and climate change plays a huge part in minority communities because we are largely targeted by all the down falls of industry that aren’t environmentally friendly. Minorities are plagued with poor health and high rates of cancer, asthma, and a lack of education on how to hold these polluting companies accountable. These companies produce harmful toxins such as lead and dioxin which cause cancer and aggression thus the reason why we as minorities have so many problems in our communities. Being able to attend this conference in Durban South, Africa would not only be my first trip outside of the United States but it will help me to gain more knowledge about environmental justice and climate change. It will also give me information on how to improve my communities and ultimately create plans to save the planet as well.
Payton Wilkins Brief Bio
Payton Wilkins is a 22 year Political Science major at Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He has been shadowing the footsteps of many great scholars, and environmental justice advocates for nearly 20 years. Through this journey he has accumulated a plethora of knowledge and abilities, as well as an unparalleled passion for the social advancement and economic equality for all disadvantaged and underprivileged people. His love for community and culture fuels a self-endowed obligation to preserve the traditions that render the cultural integrity necessary to dismantle hegemonic influences. He has volunteered and worked with multiple organizations such as The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University, Green Doors Initiative, Detroit Public Schools, Golightly Summer Jams Summer Camp, The Vanguard Project, and The African American World Festival. He also tutors elementary and middle school children twice a week. Through a continuing journey of knowledge he has received the Spirit of Detroit Award for an outstanding achievement of service to the citizens of Detroit. He has been invited to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Offices Building twice to provide input to the Cabinet of the President on a clean energy economy. Payton, plans on practicing law in Detroit, to further assist in the pursuit of a sustainable Detroit.
Cop17 United Nations Climate Change Summit Photos
All text and pictures are also located below COP 17 at http://www.drbeverlywright.com/index.php/newsroom/new-research-areas