Friday, February 3, 2012

A Black Environmentalist's Perspective

I will begin this post by sharing with you the caliber of people I represent.  Far too often, we as people of color are seen as a single entity, but due to the increased opportunities that became available to us as a race of people, following the Civil Rights Act of 1964, some of us no longer can be considered a part of such a group.  Our only connection to being black is our color and occasionally some environmental circumstance (i.e. barber & beauty salons, or church). 

Now with that said, I want to clarify what part of the black race I am saying needs our help to prepare for the future.  If you are reading this, you are probably not the person I am speaking of, at least not at this juncture; your time for learning will come later, but for now I am merely speaking to you to solicit your attention.

I left off the last post saying I would talk about the need for us to reach out to our elderly.  To do so I have added the below photo because I realize in many parts of the country, some black Americans no longer live or exist in neighborhood that have the kind of store shown in the photo, so again, your issues may be different.  But for people whom actually live, work, or represent this kind of low-income community, I am hoping my comments will be beneficial.  I am also including this photo because it has to do with the term “food deserts”. 

A food desert is any area in the industrialized world where healthful, affordable food is difficult to obtain. Food deserts are prevalent in low-socioeconomic minority communities, and are associated with a variety of diet-related health problems.  Food deserts are also linked with supermarket shortage.


When there is a lack of supermarkets, neighborhood stores like the one in the photo is where residents in our low-income communities have to purchase their food, especially the elderly who usually lack adequate transportation to get to the kind of neighborhoods, where supermarkets prefer to locate.  This brings us to the point of why we decided we needed to find a way to reach the elderly. 

Environmental organizations all over the country are working to improve the quality of food available in low-income neighborhoods.  They are busy creating a network of community gardens.  The problem is when there is food available; the people who need it the most are bypassing the community garden efforts, causing neighborhood stores to suffer a loss carrying fresh produce (they are rotting on the shelves).  This is why reaching the elderly to explain the need for them to support this system is a necessity.




The photo on the left is of a farmer’s market we used to get our students prepared to open a market in the hood.  Of course the market was located in a suburb, but we wanted the students to experience what a successful market could do, as far as making money.  The photo on the right is in a lot across the street from the store in the above photo.  As you can see we built it but few, if any, came.  Those who did were excited to have such a market so close to home.  I remember an elderly lady on a cane, who said she had no problem walking to get there.

It is a known fact that getting the community itself to support fresh vegetables in a neighborhood store, would not only create more money being spent in the neighborhood, but if an agreement is reached with the store involved to hire neighborhood people with their profit, we would actually be creating an example of how the community could create a sustainability process that could one day be used by other businesses to also create jobs for the people who live in the neighborhood. 

We see such a turnover of money in every other ethnic community in our cities, and many of us wonder why we don’t see that in our own communities.  I personally have found that in most cases when a business locates and opens their doors in our low-income communities, other than some entertainment spot (eating or drinking establishments), barber, or beauty salons, we as a race of people usually don’t shop there.  Granted there are several reasons why, from the cost factors, safety issues, to the quality of service, but the bottom line is the business suffers from a lack of sustaining customers. 

Before I go any further, I want it known that my conclusions are not just some assumption.  To gather my information I have personally traveled across America in the last three years from coast to coast.  From the hoods in Compton and Oakland California; east on Interstate 80 through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania to a wet experience at Niagara Falls; from St Louis, Memphis, through the Smokey Mountains to a trip the college-laden city of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Then this past October of 2011, I engaged in what was my very first trip through the south that included South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Dallas Texas, Oklahoma City, Wichita, and finally back to my own city in Kansas City, Kansas.  So when I speak, it is not something that I am assuming, it is from something I may have personally experienced. 

For instance, in my dealings with Black Americans, I qualified their relationship to our black communities by saying whether or not they would be willing to get a cup of coffee in the hood (coffee, not drugs, or other social fulfillments) but an actual cup of coffee, at a neighborhood store like the one in the above photo. 

My philosophical view is that when it gets to the point I am afraid to go into the black community, as far as I am concerned, we lost the battle. The so-called “man” has won.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that is the way it should be for everybody, because going into some parts of the hood on certain occasions can be dangerous; I am only saying that those who do, are keeping our fight for freedom, alive. 

When it comes to my opinion about inner city businesses, I find myself constantly saying that we as a nation of people are forcing them to make a living off the poor.  A similar circumstance is happening to the people who are striving to make a difference in the hood too.  I see them also as being forced to make a living, but this time with a slanted political agenda, which means that once again, we lose; even our liberal white brothers & sisters who actually understand (the Occupy 99%), have agendas that cause our freedom fighters, to actually lose to them too.  

So I am writing this blog to say to you, like Uncle Sam says in his famous recruiting poster!

We Need You!

For instance, I know for a fact the other ethnic groups were not born knowing how to turn their dollars over in their own community, they grew up seeing the benefits from doing so.  As far as I am concerned it is past time for us to start providing our future generations with these kinds of economic life (survival) skills too?


So that is why I see reaching out to the elderly as a necessity or an excellent place to start, seeking such a process.   

My next posting will share my rationale for reaching out environmentally to our youth.

Just in case you wondered, in almost all of the cities I visited, I found the hood.  For example, Buffalo, New York (where I stayed to visit Niagara Falls), and in the hood there is a restaurant named Gigi, which is an excellent place to not only eat, but also to visit.  So if you are ever in that city check it out, you won’t find it in those “welcome to the city” brochures, so just ask some respectful looking black person, which is how we found it. 

And yes, there were hustlers on the street, selling DVD’s:)


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