Filed Under:  Education, Environmental

Dillard among HBCUs attending environmental justice confab

30th November 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Darcie Ortique
Contributing Writer

While the world is still trying to make sense of the Nov. 13 ISIL attacks in Paris, France, two educators at Historically Black Universities are still determined to take a group of African-American students to that city to expose them to matters of environmental justice.

On Nov. 30, 2015, 21 students flew to Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change for a 13-day climate change initiative. Three of the students attending the trip are from Dillard University, and the 28 other students are representing 21 other HBCUs in the country. The climate change initiative will take place through Dec. 13, 2015.

Members of the Dillard University student and mentor delegation traveling to COP21 in Paris are, from left to right: Dr. Ebony Turner, Alexis Walker (senior, public health), Mary I. Williams, Dr. Beverly Wright, Faith Flugence (sophomore, political science), Tiara Gray (sophomore, biology), and Celeste Cooper.

Members of the Dillard University student and mentor delegation traveling to
COP21 in Paris are, from left to right: Dr. Ebony Turner, Alexis Walker (senior,
public health), Mary I. Williams, Dr. Beverly Wright, Faith Flugence (sophomore,
political science), Tiara Gray (sophomore, biology), and Celeste Cooper.

After months of fundraising and community outreach, the GoFundMe account pulled in over $11,000 for the students to travel to Paris. The group will travel alongside Dillard University professor of Sociology, Dr. Beverly Wright and the Dean of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, Dr. Robert Bullard. The convention provides an opportunity for students seeking future careers in construction, global environmental management, or any specialized field dealing with hazardous waste to gain hands-on experience. It would give the students basic knowledge for performing these jobs, the coordinating professors said.

“[The recent terrorist attack] put a damper on the enthusiasm for a lot of our young people who have never travelled abroad before. But I think they are very determined,” said Bullard, adding that both he and Wright had to cancel some of the additional activities planned for the students because of the attacks. “We can’t put our need for climate change policies on hold. We have to come up with solutions to the pressing effects that confronts humanity.”

Both Wright and Bullard are on a mission to expose African-American students and the black community to issues of environmental justice. As academics, they hope to inspire a future generation of students to take a leadership role in issues of climate change and environmental degradation.

The convention in Paris is exposing students to major power brokers and how they can pursue global action on issues facing the planet. “The whole idea is for our students to interact with government officials about policies around the world,” Bullard said. The trip would provide students with a “great opportunity to see how international treaties are formed and shaped and ultimately, signed off on,” he added.

The interest in universal action with regards to the environment began on these campuses and through the work of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.

Founded in 1992, the center was originally based at Xavier University of Louisiana, and has since trained African-American students on the hazardous toxins surrounding their communities.

Wright, the center’s founder, whose expertise is in environmental protection, has worked with the city of New Orleans to promote health safety and environmentally-sound recovery in New Orleans, post-Katrina. Wright’s work and activism after the storm has focused on contaminated communities polluted by debris accumulated by toxic waste.

Her partnership with Bullard allows both faculties to extend their work to a network of HBCUs across the country, targeting African-American neighborhoods that are plagued with environmental concerns.

“Every group [race] was represented, while African Americans were absent,” said Wright as she travelled the globe to environmental summits over the course of her career. “There seemed to be a disconnect” she said, between African Americans and other cultures regarding the ecosystem. The lack of involvement by African Americans in the environment fueled her academic and community work.

At Xavier, Wright said the Deep South Center hosted the first environmental conference to raise awareness for environmental justice. The center moved to Dillard post-Katrina, and thanks to a five-year grant from the National Institute of Environmental Science, students have been educated on topics like hazardous waste removal and mold remediation, Wright said.

Wright and Bullard say that through the Paris trip and their work in the Gulf South, they hope to bring attention to environmental disparities and gain government support for communities of color. “We would not need environmental laws if they were applied equally across the board,” said Bullard.

Bullard and Wright argue that over time governments have been slow to respond to natural disasters that have affected African-American communities.

They document this in their research, particularly after examining the government’s actions after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

Bullard and Wright hope the HBCU Climate Change Consortium and the trip to the Paris climate change conference will inspire future generations to improve the well-being of minority communities across the globe.

“Climate change is their issue, and it’s probably the number one environmental justice human rights issue,” Bullard said.

This article originally published in the November 30, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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