Proctor Creek Conversation with Alexie Torres-Fleming: My Takeaway

Dr. Yomi Noibi, Executive Director, ECO-Action

Alexie-Invitation-Photo-199x300How do community members with little money, power or education organize to create positive, deep and meaningful transformations in their neighborhood which has for years been treated with “benign neglect”? About 30 people from federal, state, local government agencies, non-profit organizations and community-based organizations engaged in restoring and protecting Northwest Atlanta’s Proctor Creek watershed, listened to Alexie Torres-Fleming, a community organizer share how she worked with members of her community in the South Bronx to restore sections of the Bronx River into an environmental oasis in the midst of the South Bronx, New York. Her talk took place at the Atlanta Food Bank on March 24, 2015.

As I listened, I was filled with the humanity, transparency, and candidness with which Alexie shared her transformation, from a woman who did not recognize her power or place in her community to one who did. Alexie is only the second person who touched this core of my being as a community organizer. The first was Carol Williams, co-founder of ECO-Action. Both of them truly live their values and beliefs.

During her talk, Alexie who now serves as the Executive Director of the Access Strategies Fund shared several salient points that will be crucial to the success of our concerted efforts in working together to restore, revitalize and protect Proctor Creek. I would like to briefly outline my take aways from Alexia’s conversation with us.

According to Alexie, to build an authentic organization with dignity and collaboration, we need to live in love. As a community, love belongs to one another. My take way from this is we need to show love to one another, even to our opponents/enemies. Yes, even to the person that patronized you, cheated you and lied to you. This is living in love and with mutual respect for ALL.

alexie3Identifying what is good in the people and place (rather than just the problems) is essential. This is the essence of community asset mapping. Young Alexie lived close to Bronx River as a child but she did not know it. The river had the potential to be a community asset, but the community didn’t know it. Alexie had to go outside her place to discover the good in the place that she lived. That was her journey. Where are you in your journey of appreciating and loving the people and place you live? My take away is that when we identify the assets together, we allow our community members to dream dreams for the place they live.

Alexie’s explanation of the “inside and outside strategy” of coalition building was a big take way for me. Her community was on the outside of established networks of power and so they had to cultivate relationships with people inside of those networks.

We too must learn to train our wisdom and expertise to serve the Proctor Creek community.
While partners inside could use the resources they had within the constraints of their organizations, her groups could work outside the box and call elected officials to task, often through public spectacle and protests. The inside relationships are about authentic partnership and collaborations, which are growing within the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council (PCSC). Her folks had to grow in capacity to engage and affect the “inside” strategy. We too must learn to train our wisdom and expertise to serve the Proctor Creek community. In the process of doing this, we will demystify the systems and the language of communication with one another. Simply put, we become more real and more transparent with one another.

How do we position ourselves to build relationships that are more transformational and less transactional in our community organizing and coalition building?

As our community organizing and coalition building for environmental protection is filled with love, hope, fortitude and fun, we must appreciate the power in this process.
We position ourselves by working out of love, showing mutual respect for all, and believing that the work we are doing to restore, revitalize and protect Proctor Creek is bigger than ourselves. This is another element of the inside /outside strategy. Let us reflect on what Alexie meant when she said, ”We need each other at both the professional level and individual level”. When we know each other on both levels, we are seeing each other as human beings. Our walk and work help us to share power, talent, time, and money out of our humanity. As our community organizing and coalition building for environmental protection is filled with love, hope, fortitude and fun, we must appreciate the power in this process.

What were your take ways from Alexie’s conversation with the Proctor Creek community?

Alexie’s talk rekindled my spirit to keep fighting the good fight for the stewardship of Proctor Creek. More stewards are needed to sustain the restoration, revitalization, and protection of the creek. As we engage in the fight, we have to fight wiser and smarter at all levels of engagement. If we imagine the Council at a canoe floating on Proctor Creek, we see that we won’t be able to enjoy the Creek for long if the canoe is filled with holes. We work smarter if we each work to fill the holes that are already in the canoe and strive not to create any new ones.

I found Alexie to be an extraordinary and impactful community builder whose work is informed and guided by love and love for humanity. I want to thank American Rivers, The Conservation Fund, Park Pride, and Proctor Creek Stewardship Council & West Atlanta Watershed Alliance for sponsoring this conversation.

Understanding the Relationship between Pollution and Poor Health

mold-8Can living in a building with mold, roaches and paint chips make you or your children more likely to have asthma attacks? NPR, in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, recently conducted a poll looking at the social determinants of health in America. When people rated 14 possible causes of ill health, respondents identified exposure to pollution as one of the top five. NPR has been running an audio series this week that looks at these issues.

Since December, residents of the Vine City and English Avenues neighborhoods of Atlanta have been looking at similar issues and trying to determine what they can do together. Neighbors met in late February to discuss next steps to take based on a survey that ECO-Action completed in partnership with Emory University School of Public Health. The survey looked at prevalence of mold in housing near Proctor Creek . It also tried to show the relationships between flooding and health problems. Some of the findings include:

  1. Mold was observed in more than half (53%) of residences,
  2. Residents reported being aware of the mold in their homes in just less than half (47%) of residences in which mold was observed,
  3. Participants with mold observed in their homes overall reported more coughing at night than those without mold,
  4. 14% of the survey participants reported currently having asthma.

In comparison:

  1. 1.5% had visible mold in the living room or bedroom in the American Healthy Homes Survey.
  2. 7.8% of people who participated in the 2010 Georgia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey reported current asthma.

Additional information about the Proctor Creek Community Collaborative Health Survey can be found  in the Proctor Creek Survey Findings Community Brochure here.

The NPR story provides an easy entrée into a better understanding of the environmental health problems we are seeing in the Proctor Creek area of these neighborhoods. Low income persons living in substandard housing often face exposure to environmental contaminants and experience poor health as a result.

Here is a link to the Tuesday March 3rd show that focused on housing and its impacts on health.You can also watch an hour long forum which examines the social and environmental issues related to health or access links to the rest of the series here.

If you have any concern about air pollution or other environmental health issue in your community and you are willing to organize, you can call ECO-Action. We are ready to assist.

EnviroForum: My Takeaway

by Kira Spanks

Dr. Yomi at June 2014 Environmental Forum

On June 7th, community members and stakeholders from Metro Atlanta gathered at Georgia State University Petit Science Center to underscore the importance of environmental justice and the need for environmental justice policy for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. Environmental Community Action Inc. (ECO-Action), Atlanta was one of the organizers, along with, GeorgiaWAND, Georgia State University School of Public Health, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Together, we met, networked and learned the importance of environmental justice, and how every resident can get involved, make their voices heard, and create a community of change.

Dr. Fatima Shaffi, Matthew Tejada, Frank Bove, Dr. Yomi at Environmental Justice Forum - June 2014

Dr. Fatima Shaffi, Matthew Tejada, Dianne Valentine, Frank Bove, Dr. Yomi at Environmental Justice Forum – June 2014

A step to eradicating environmental injustice is to network with similar minded individuals to come together and make a change that not only resonates in Atlanta, but hopefully throughout the southeast and the rest of the country. A single voice can be easily ignored, but together we are a force to be reckoned with, because working together, sharing our strengths, and working through experience, we cannot be ignored.

N'ataki Osborne Jelks, WAWA presenter at Environmental Justice Forum - June 2014

N’ataki Osborne Jelks, WAWA presenter at Environmental Justice Forum – June 2014

We had the opportunity to hear from a lot of local groups including Green Law, a firm that is focused on environmental law and justice. The presentation from Melanie Pearson of Emory University’s HERCULES project focused on how both genetics and the cumulative effect of lifetime environmental exposures can influence our health. We also heard from the Fulton County’s Environmental Planner, Monica Robinson, who provided insight to what Fulton County is working towards regarding justice and infrastructure rehabilitation. These are just a few of the morning speakers. During the working lunch we heard from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Director of Environmental Justice, Matthew Tejada, and the Honorable Harold Mitchell who spoke about the ReGenesis program in South Carolina.

Harold Mitchell, ReGenesis at Environmental Justice Forum - June 2014

Harold Mitchell, ReGenesis at Environmental Justice Forum – June 2014

After the presentations we broke into three groups: land, air and water. Each group discussed the current issues related to that topic and we formulated solutions to the concerns. As a group, we also worked together to discuss how best to communicate with others in the group and promised to meet again and continue working on the problems specific to that area. After we had our small groups, all three groups gathered together in the auditorium and we shared all of our solutions for metro Atlanta and beyond.

IMG_5492Participants at the Community had the opportunity to share their specific needs from their communities, and personalize how significantly important their surrounding areas were to both their development and the development of their family, friends and neighbors. I found the Community Forum to be a safe space to build relationships to leverage partnerships, organize for environmental justice and to inform, educate and empower communities. By sowing the seeds to create the capacity to address environmental justice concern we increase awareness of the need for an environmental justice policy in Atlanta and to create solutions for moving forward together.

IMG_5444Together, we can do anything; together we want to spread the vision of environmental justice across the United States and press the government to propose a true plan for environmental justice for all that would include clean and green energy. Together, we are an unstoppable force.


Community Investigation Leads to DWM Action

tires 050714ATLANTA – The City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM) completed a cleanup of illegally dumped tires along Proctor Creek last month.  DWM was notified of the abandoned tires by a letter sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from representatives of the Proctor Creek Stewardship Council, Shaheed DuBois and Tony Torrence.  The tires have the potential to pose a health risk to the community from increased mosquito breeding habitat and harboring areas for wildlife such as snakes and rodents.  Click here to continue reading on City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management website.

Are you interested in promoting a stronger commitment to environmental justice in the City of Atlanta?

blog_post_1_300Twenty years ago, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” directing federal agencies to address environmental injustices in their operations and in communities across the country. Since that time a number of states, counties and cities including Fulton County have developed Environmental Justice policies of their own to pro-actively address environmental equity concerns and help ensure that minority and low-income communities are not disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards.  Unfortunately, the City of Atlanta has not enacted an Environmental Justice policy.

To increase awareness about environmental hazards in Atlanta and the neighborhoods that are affected, ECO-Action will be hosting an all-day Community Forum, Sowing the Seeds of Hope and the Power of Collaboration for Environmental Health Protection in Our Community.

When: June 7, 2014 from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm

Where: Georgia State University, Parker H. Petit Science Center, 115 Decatur St SE, Atlanta GA 30303.  Parking is located at deck G and is available free of charge.

During the meeting we hope to learn more about the issues that affect us collectively while beginning to develop a strategy to advocate for an environmental justice policy that would apply to the City of Atlanta.

RSVP either online or call 404 584 6499.

Please mark your calendars and stay tuned for additional details about this exciting event.