By Carla Walker
Like many who saw the global record-breaking blockbuster, Black Panther, I’m already looking forward to the sequel. At the movie’s end, King T’Challa showed Princess Shuri where he planned to launch a community initiative that would infuse major investment in both the fiscal and human economy of a neighborhood in Oakland, California. It’s the perfect set up for the next chapter. Imagine if T’Challa added a lens of sustainability to his plan and focused on tackling the environmental justice (EJ) challenges faced by communities of color. His fictional home of Wakanda could serve as a model. It’s located somewhere in natural resource-rich Eastern Africa overflowing with green spaces, blue waterways, a thriving economy, and healthy people. It’s the very picture of a sustainable developed nation.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait for a vibranium wrapped brother to help us out. We can, however, follow his lead. Environmental justice is not a not new issue nor is it a new term. Communities of color have been on the frontline of the environment and climate justice battlefield for decades. We are seeing the same fight, but it is gaining new attention due in part to the President’s environmental regulatory rollback strategy. While this is bringing new allies to the table it requires us to take control of the narrative that speaks to our communities at the local, state, and national levels.
We can start by expanding our agency around EJ matters and recognize that environmental issues are not necessarily a priority when we are managing other critical issues in our communities. Our energies are simultaneously fighting for meaningful employment, better education, access to better health services, and criminal justice to name a few. Our challenge to fight for clean air becomes that much more difficult when our communities are living from crisis to crisis. But environmental issues should not be seen as separate from what we are already dealing with daily. For example, discussions about jobs and unemployment should not exclude the green industry sector. Ohio is one of the top 10 states for solar job growth and Cincinnati is the top city in the Midwest for growth in this sector. We need to make sure conversations around jobs and employment include how to bring new opportunities like solar installation and green technology to those looking for work.
Over the last few years, the City of Cincinnati Department of Economic Inclusion has sought to address disparities in City contracts and have been increasing the number of opportunities for small and minority-owned, and women-owned businesses. What is the data for environmental programming throughout the region? We can take lesson from Green 2.0, the initiative dedicated to increasing racial diversity across mainstream environmental groups by regularly sharing data on how inclusive they are or are not. Let us shine a light on regional organizations, institutions, initiatives, and programs with green or sustainable projects and better understand their levels of inclusion and diversity.
Each of us can take some piece of the environmental justice battle and move the dial. Talk about the connection between neighborhood redevelopment and the need for green infrastructure and parks. Talk about the links between access to better health services and the need for a coordinated neighborhood garden network that provides fresh vegetables to residents. Talk about educating our children and the need to expose them to the outdoors and natural habitats. We can do that and take control of not only how our neighborhoods receive environmental projects but dictate and create what environmental programming shapes our communities.