The University of Maryland School of Public Health hosted its Fourth Environmental Justice and Health Disparities Symposium in May, bringing together hundreds of participants for an in-depth examination of how communities throughout the region are taking action on diverse issues such as air pollution, food insecurity, natural gas impacts, children’s environmental health, goods movement, industrialized animal production, waste management, traffic, energy sustainability, environmental justice screening tools and lead poisoning, to name a few.
Organized by Environmental Health Associate Professor Sacoby Wilson, who leads the community engagement, environmental justice, and health (CEEJH) program to engage impacted communities, advocacy groups, health practitioners, and policymakers in Maryland and the Washington, DC region on environmental justice issues and environmental health disparities, the event was first held in 2012.
The day-long event, held May 12 at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union, kicked off with a moving keynote by Destiny Watford, the 2016 North America Goldman Prize Winner and organizer of the movement to stop the construction of an incinerator in Baltimore’s Curtis Bay neighborhood. “As recently as 2008, Curtis Bay had the highest levels of toxic air emissions in the nation,” she said. “But we rose up, and after five long years, we stopped it. Our power as a community, as people, comes from humanizing one another in a world that so often dehumanizes us,” she expressed.
Watford continues to organize for environmental and social justice through the organization she founded – Free Your Voice – and focuses on improving Baltimore communities by addressing issues such as affordable housing, trash, public safety, food access and pollution.
Introducing Ms. Watford, Dr. Wilson said, “This movement is a movement of people who are actively engaged, conscious and show that they have power. Destiny showed the power that one person, one voice can have on the world, on their neighborhood. She was a 17 year-old high school student, and the incinerator was going to be built less than a mile from her school and her school system was going to be buying energy from this incinerator. Imagine that! How can we put America first if we don’t put our kids first? How can we put our kids first if we have our kids going to school in toxic environments? Destiny was awake, Destiny is “woke,” that is the power of youth! In her work she had an impact in her community and an impact on her peers. She continues to fight for her community’s future by creating a community land trust to form truly democratic and community-driven development for the people, of the people and by the people!”
Dozens of speakers, including academic, advocacy, political and community leaders, shared strategies to apply science, organizing and legal tools to advance justice and health equity in the diverse sessions held throughout the day.
The event was co-sponsored by the UMD School of Public Health’s Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, and Maryland Center for Health Equity, along with the UMD Sustainability Fund, National Center for Smart Growth, Sierra Club, WEACT, SRAP, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Town Creek Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Moms Clean Air Force, Choose Clean Water Coalition, SESYNC, Prince George’s County Parks and Recreation, EarthJustice, Food and Water Watch, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Rachel Carson Council, Namati, LillieLeaf, Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and the Audubon Naturalists Society.
Watch some of the sessions on YouTube: 2018 Environmental Justice & Health Disparities Symposium at the University of Maryland
View the complete list of sessions and speakers.
Dr. Wilson also hosted Dr. Bob Bullard, distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University for a talk in May titled, “The Wrong Complexion for Protection: Race, Place and the Politics of Pollution.” Video begins at 18:49.
The fifth Environmental Justice and Health Disparities Symposium is being planned for May 11th, 2019.