HBCU Climate Change Initiative – Moving forward from the Big Apple to the Big Easy

Over 400,000 people gathered for the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21, 2014 to send a message to the world that now is the time for our nation to take responsibility in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The HBCU Climate Change Initiative student and faculty delegation descended on New York with 105 representatives from Dillard University, Florida A & M University, Grambling State University, Howard University, Lincoln University, Southern University Baton Rouge, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, Texas Southern University, and Xavier University of Louisiana.

 

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Dr. Beverly Wright, Director of the Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University organized the participation of HBCU students from across the country in the March as an activity of the HBCU Climate Change Initiative. Drs. Beverly Wright and Robert Bullard, started the HBCU Climate Change Initiative in 2011 to help raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of climate change on vulnerable and marginalized communities and to develop the next generation of leaders on issues related to environmental justice policies, community resilience, and adaptation.

Drs. Wright and Bullard took an active role in raising funds to bring the delegation to New York and provide them with lodging for the People’s Climate March and its ancillary activities. The HBCU contingent was funded by 350.org, the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defence Fund, the Energy Action Coalition, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Texas Southern University, the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, the Florida A&M University (FAMU) Student Government Association and its Environmental Sustainability Institute. Texas Southern University graduate student, Steven Washington of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs worked diligently in his position as HBCU Student Organizer for the People’s Climate March. Steven spent many hours making certain that students and faculty were prepared and informed during the planning process prior to the March.

 

After, much careful planning and fruitful fundraising, four buses took to the highways, departing from Howard University, Lincoln University, Florida A&M University and New Orleans, Louisiana, to bring over 100 students and faculty from nine HBCU’s in the Southern and Gulf Coastal regions of the United States. Once the delegation arrived in New York, alumni from participating HBCU’s joined the contingency.

One very determined student from Tennessee State University, Lauren Wiggins, creatively carpooled and then braved a very long bus ride to represent her TSU Tigers. She didn’t mind that he had to travel with people she did not know because once she arrived, she was in the midst of brothers and sisters from other HBCUs who cared just as much about climate change as she. Go Tigers!

The People’s Climate March Youth Convergence

On the Saturday September 20, 2014, Texas Southern’s Steven Washington facilitated a provocative discussion on a student panel, entitled Mobilizing HBCU Students to Address Climate Change in Vulnerable Communities during the People’s Climate March Youth Convergence. The panelists included, N. Jenise Young – Texas Southern University; Jamila Gomez – Texas Southern University; Falon Shackelford – Howard University Graduate; Jomar Floyd and Ursula Ible – FAMU. The panel

1focused on urban islands and food deserts plaguing vulnerable communities after a disaster, fundraising opportunities, and collaborative efforts among HBCU’s and Predominately White Institutions (PWI’s). The students challenged their peers to begin working on projects within their communities, to seek out resources from their Student Government Association (SGA) and to start an environmental justice group on their campus.

HBCU Climate Change Initiative Teach-In

Also on Saturday, Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director of the Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice facilitated the HBCU Climate Change Teach-In with a panel of esteemed Environmental Justice leaders, academicians and advocates including Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, Dr. Gregory Jenkins, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Howard University, Dr. Richard Gragg, III, Director and Associate Professor with the Environmental Sciences Institute, at Florida A & M University, and Monique Harden, Esq., co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. Dr. Wright gave an overview of the HBCU Climate Change Initiative and why it is critical to engage the next generation of leaders in climate justice and community resilience, noting that people of color communities are hit first, hardest, and the longest.Dr. Richard Gragg stressed that more HBCU campuses must embrace the reality of climate change and move forward with an action plan. He is helping to lead an environmental justice and sustainability strategy at FAMU. It was the general consensus of the panel that this generation will be impacted by climate change more because of the lack of policies to reduce greenhouse gases in our country. The unequivocal message was that this generation must mobilize to put pressure on our government to improve policies that will affect change.

The People’s Climate March

On the day of the March, Sunday, September 21, 2014, the HBCU delegates participated to bring attention to vulnerable communities in the southeastern region of the United States which have been disproportionately impacted by severe weather events related to climate change.

Florida A&M students, Jabari Mickles and LaQuinta Alexander and Howard University student Jomar Floyd led the delegation in climate change and HBCU chants. These students were most instrumental in making the presence of HBCUs known during the March. It was clear that HBCUs were well represented and actively involved in the event. Even New York mayor, Bill de Blasio could feel the passion exuded by the HBCU student delegation. He joined the march, walking with Spelman College students Ruth Wangia and Marlissa Starling. Of the over 400,000 people there, he gravitated toward the fire that was the HBCU delegation.

Lincoln University students carried the National Black Environmental Justice Network banner with pride, in honour of Environmental Justice activist Damu Smith who passed away in 2006. These students’ active presence at the March was a testament to his legacy.

The Louisiana contingent of the delegation was 31 strong, with students and faculty from Dillard and Xavier Universities in New Orleans, Southern University in Baton Rouge, as well as Grambling University in Grambling, Louisiana. These students enthusiastically participated in the March, knowing that their institutions have or could sustain damage from extreme weather due to climate change events. Nathaniel Barnett, a public health senior at Dillard University was quoted in the New York Metro News stating that he needed to march in New York because of “the continued devastation from Hurricane Katrina” and that states in the “southern region of the USA need attention”, ending with that he wanted the United Nations Summit delegates to know that “we’re the most affected, more than anyone in the US.”

From the Big Apple to the Big Easy

For the HBCU Climate Change Initiative institutions, the People’s Climate March served as another step toward Climate Change awareness and action as students move forward to promote climate justice and community resilience in their home communities. Plans are underway for the upcoming 3rd Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference, March 26 – 28, 2015 at Dillard University in New Orleans. The event is sponsored by Dillard University Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs. During the People’s Climate March student panel discussion participants gave recommendations to develop a student planning team for the upcoming Student Climate Change Conference, to invite students from different disciplines and set up a “World Café” roundtable format to encourage dialogue among conference participants. For more information about the 3rd Annual HBCU Student Climate Change Conference go to the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice website at www.dscej.org. “When we know, we act.”

MEDIA COVERAGE OF PEOPLE’S CLIMATE MARCH---NEW YORK CITY

Brentin Mock. 2014. “Time to March for the Climate then “Shmoney Dance to the Polls,” September 19.

Brentin Mock.. 2014. “Watch People’s Climate Justice Summit Live Streaming Now." September 22

Ben Adler. 2014. “One Big March, Lots of Little Messages.”  (Texas Southern University Student, N.Jenise Young Quoted). September 21.

Elke Weesies. 2014. “The Faces of Climate Action.” (Lincoln University (PA) student, Adjua Lafleur is quoted).September 22.

Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative. Climate Justice the Time is Now.2014

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Ada McMahon. 2014. Gulf Coast Solidarity with the People’s Climate March. September 25.

Dr. Robert D. Bullard. 2014. “HBCUs and Frontline Gulf Cost Communities to Hold “Teach-In” at NYC Climate Conference.” September 8.

Kami McDonald. 2014.The New Orleans Tribune in a post called “HBCU Students Lead Youth Movement on Climate Change”published on September 26.

HBCU Climate March Pictures

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Excelsior.com published a “Letter to an Editor” by New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) on September 15,2014

Texas Southern University. 2014. “HBCUs Delegation will “Hold Teach In” and Participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City."