Bridge Builders

By Leon Carter

Recently, EPA staffed an information booth at the first of what promises to be an annual event: Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments. The purpose of the U.R.B.A.A.N.E. Conference 2011 was to discuss, develop and possibly deliver resources related to the conference’s themes: environmental education/ justice, the creation of green jobs, green industry/development and urban agriculture. All relate to EPA’s mission.

The conference combined informative classes and workshops corresponding with one or more of the of conference’s themes. Absent were scientific jargon and circuitous thoughts. Discussions were in “plain English”. Getting the word out is important. We must convey our mission or message to those we serve for it to serve its purpose. The conference was good at this and I plan to replicate that skill myself.

As an African American who grew up in the inner city, I relate to the difficulties faced by the urban community for whom venturing into the “great outdoors” or the “natural environment” was an adventure unto itself which was rarely great and very far from natural. The everyday existence within many communities of color is often marred by violence and blight, which is further exacerbated by environmental injustices that are easily hidden due to a lack of public interest, attention, or both. There were times in my childhood when the term “open space” referred to “vacant lots” that had become the target of fly dumpers. “Fresh air” meant you were upwind of the smoke stacks. So, I applaud those within the community who are fighting for change through the creation of public forums where social and environmental issues are openly addressed. This is no easy task, but a necessary one if communities hope to further their transition from “quiet resistance” into “stakeholder” and accept accountability and ownership for the direction of the community

As the event wound down, I spoke with many who came by my booth to voice thanks for EPA’s efforts and the job we’ve done. I was doubly proud: to have been the face of the EPA at this event and to be well represented and have our issues recognized by others outside of our community.

About the author: Leon Carter is an intern in EPA’s Chicago office in the Energy Star Program. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Urban Planning-Land Use and Policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

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