Hello, Friends and Supporters of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice,

I hope this letter finds you and yours well and in good health.  I express my condolences to all of you who have lost loved ones during this terrible pandemic. You have my deepest sympathies.

In ordinary times, my Director’s Letter would be filled with descriptions of the amazing work the Center is doing with equally amazing people, but these are not ordinary times. Consequently, I will deviate somewhat from my usual format to focus instead on how the pandemic, pollution, climate change, and racism interconnect in ways that devastate and further endanger the health of our communities.  This deviation has in fact led to my decision to dedicate the entirety of the newsletter to sharing the work of the Center with you.
I can personally report that we are in fact working, planning, strategizing, organizing, and advocating for justice in all areas.  In particular, we are working with environmental justice communities on ways to build community resilience to climate change, advocate for and work to build sustainable communities and fight for climate change policy that supports all of the above.

Over the last three years, our reach into the Gulf Coast region has expanded more deliberately to include three additional states; Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, and continues to grow in conjunction with the policy work we are doing in Louisiana and Texas.  It is our intention, through our programming, to create a Gulf Coast Network for Climate Justice Policy, the mission of which is to develop regional policies that support community resilience and sustainability in the face of climate change.

The challenges were inherent to our work are exacerbated in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Coronavirus has landed a knockout punch to our communities, registering a death rate for African-Americans that is disproportionately higher than our white counterparts.
COVID-19 literally hitches a ride with air pollution (PM 2.5) and lodges deep within the respiratory system, causing severe harm that all too often results in death.  The mortality rate for African Americans due to the virus is 8 times higher than for white Americans, and as shown by a Harvard University study, is greater because of housing patterns and discrimination that has relegated nearly 79% of African Americans to live in communities with high levels of air pollution.  This correlation is not lost on researchers nor is it lost on environmental justice community members who have been railing against polluting facilities and toxic air in their communities for many years.

When added to the strain of living with a pandemic that is more harmful to African Americans than others, and the killing of George Floyd in plain sight, the realization that race is the major driver for this phenomenon of disproportionality in COVID deaths, one can hardly fathom the sobering nature of this moment for us all.  The convergence of these factors indeed makes for life-changing, even paradigm-shifting epiphanies, calling to all that is human in each of us.

For African Americans in particular, this moment has meant watching close friends, family members, acquaintances, and colleagues fall victim to the virus with no real answers, igniting in us, feelings of sadness and anger; feelings that have become constant companions for many these days.
So I write this letter reflecting on what has been painfully clear; speaking and living the truth is never easy, but is always necessary.  Know, my dear friends, that this is why we do this work.  From our very beginning when we responded to community calls from those living in Cancer Alley; to the cries of Environmental Justice communities across the country; to Katrina and climate change impacted communities within this nation; to those whose communities and livelihoods were devastated by the BP Oil spill; to the families, friends and neighbors of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and countless others seeking justice because, yes, Black Lives Matter; to those whose businesses, jobs and lives are threatened by COVID; we want you all to know that the Deep South Center will be here to assist in your fight for justice.Thank you for your support.

In Solidarity in the Struggle for Justice,

Beverly Wright, Ph.D.