Majora Carter Speaks at MLK Week

Environmental justice advocate Majora Carter gave a lecture at Pomona College on Jan. 21 as a featured speaker in Pomona’s week-long celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy.Known for founding Sustainable South Bronx, Smart Roofs, LLC and the Majora Carter Group, LLC, Carter has worked to create green jobs, fought against “environmental sacrifice zones,” and helped to “Green the Ghetto,” the title of the talk she gave in Edmunds Ballroom about her work in the South Bronx.Beginning with a discussion of the South Bronx’s history and her experiences growing up there, Carter discussed how communities like her own have been impoverished by “red-lining,” the practice of denying services like banking and insurance to so-called “No Loan Zones.” Highways and industrial infrastructure such as waste transfer stations were also clustered in her neighborhood, she said, leading to air and noise pollution and some of the highest asthma rates in the U.S.“The South Bronx was targeted because it’s poor,” Carter said.One day, after being led by her dog into a trash-filled vacant lot, she was surprised to find herself on the banks of the Bronx River. She said a question occurred to her: why was the lot vacant, with its view of the river hidden behind a fence?Answering that question soon became the driving force in her life, Carter said. Soon she was fighting to prove that neighborhoods could be improved by galvanizing the community to create green jobs, livable space, and a stronger community.First, Carter helped to turn that vacant lot into a green parkway for the entire community to enjoy. Next, she founded Sustainable South Bronx, an organization that helped to create Hunt’s Point Riverside Park.Sustainable South Bronx also started the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program (BEST), which trains Bronx residents for green jobs. Carter defined a green job as “any job that has a net benefit to the environment.” Since 2003, Carter said, 85 percent of those involved in BEST are employed and 10 percent are in college.“One of the most important things about Sustainable South Bronx is that it has helped show people that they have something to offer the world,” Carter said. “Training people to make a difference is an extremely powerful tool, one that can transform a community.”Carter went on to say the fossil fuel economy itself is the root of environmental justice issues.“Someone will always be expendable,” she said, adding that if environmental burdens exist on a nation-wide scale, someone will always be affected — and more often than not, poor neighborhoods will be forced to bear the brunt of those burdens. This, she said, is why the uniting motif in her work is her commitment to building a more sustainable economy, one green job at a time.The event had several sponsors, including President David Oxtoby, Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum, the Public Events Committee, Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility (PEAR), the Environmental Quality Committee, the Sustainability Integration Office, and the newly unveiled Draper Center.“Ever since I heard Carter speak at Power Shift in 2007, I had hoped to bring her to Pomona,” said Environmental Affairs Commissioner Joanna Ladd PO’10. “When I brought it up with Maria Tucker and Chad Horsford [PO ‘11], they liked the idea and we were particularly lucky that Chad had a way to contact her since he worked for Sustainable South Bronx.”Michael O’Shea PO ‘11, who is currently interning at the Trust for Public Land, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving land in community parks and gardens, was also impressed with Carter.“A lot of these problems aren’t always recognized or acknowledged, especially by the government,” he said. “Doing that kind of community action can be tough, so her talk definitely inspired me. ”“To me,” Ladd continued, “the best part about the talk was the way in which it was able to bridge the perceived gap between environmental and social issues.”Though Carter was only one of many speakers who came to the Claremont Colleges to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., Horsford, who organized the events, said Carter stood out to him among the list of speakers that included Rev. Jesse Jackson and activist Myrlie Evers-Williams.“Majora was really intelligent, inspiring, and helped to crystallize some of my own personal goals to do activism after college,” he said. “I liked how she put a human element in her talk, illustrating how her work relates to her life and showing that environmentalism doesn’t have to be devoid of a human story.”Horsford said one of his favorite parts of Carter’s visit was the lunch held the day after her speech.“Faculty, staff and students who aren’t necessarily interested in environmental issues were sitting next to environmentalists—it would have been impossible to get them into the same room otherwise,” he said. “Majora was able to show them that maybe their goals overlap more than they think.”“She didn’t speak directly to the legacy of Martin Luther King,” Horsford continued, “But her talk provided a great example of how King’s work is being continued today in the realm of environmental justice, civil rights, and human rights.”

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