Environmental Advocates: Empowerment Doesn't End With Juneteenth
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Juneteenth celebrations this month commemorated freedom, but Black and Brown people are still disproportionately impacted by environmental injustices based on their ZIP Code - including chronic disease.
Heather McTeer Toney, vice president for community engagement with the Environmental Defense Fund, is working to advance environmental justice based on 100% clean electricity and transportation.
She said from landfills to coal mines to polluting incinerators, minority communities historically have been saddled with environmental oppression. But she also noted that those same communities were often the first to reuse and recycle items others discarded.
"More of our polluting industries are in Black and Brown communities," said McTeer Toney. "We're also the very spaces where solutions have been a part of our cultures."
McTeer Toney said the intersection between racial justice and climate is becoming more pronounced - with wildfires, hurricanes and extreme weather events more likely to devastate marginalized communities.
Chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, asthma and heart disease are among the top health problems in the U.S. and affect minorities at twice the rate of white people.
Almeta Cooper, national manager for health equity for Moms Clean Air Force, said the Juneteenth spirit is about recognizing that even while waiting for liberation, people maintained hope.
"Climate and environmental injustices can be a really big issue that sometimes is difficult for people to wrap their arms around," said Cooper. "We want to say you can start right at home."
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in 1863.
The proclamation remained a secret in Galveston until June 19, 1865 - when federal troops arrived, informing the enslaved population that they were free.
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