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Former MLK colleague commemorates environmental justice motion with NC roots – Duke Chronicle


A former colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke to Duke neighborhood members beneath the stained glass home windows and among the many pews of the Duke Chapel on Sept. 15.

Civil rights activist Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Divinity Faculty ’80, a current recipient of the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award and former colleague of MLK, joined Catherine Coleman Flowers, present vice chair of the White Home Environmental Justice Advisory Council and Nicholas Faculty practitioner-in-residence. 

The occasion, titled “Environmental Justice: Previous, Current, and Future,” was hosted by the Sanford Faculty of Public Coverage as a part of Duke’s Environmental Justice collection and live streamed worldwide. It was meant to have fun and spotlight the anniversary of the 1982 Warren County protests, which ushered in a brand new movement and tutorial subject and adjusted the course of historical past.

“In 40 years, we not solely have a motion in North Carolina, we’ve got a motion everywhere in the world. The environmental justice motion is a worldwide motion,” Chavis stated. “The long run is what we form the longer term to be.”

The opening assertion was adopted by a dialogue and Q&A involving each audio system and moderated by Cameron Oglesby, a present graduate scholar at Sanford. All through the course of the dialogue, the audio system addressed the historical past and origins of environmental justice, its significance on an area and worldwide degree, and extra particular points resembling voter participation, local weather justice in rural areas, and the position of Duke in persevering with to propel the motion ahead.

Chavis’ factors centered totally on the significance of unity within the motion, spanning throughout ethnic teams, non-public and public companies, states and nations. He additionally highlighted that political involvement needs to be on the forefront, particularly through voter participation and electing leaders who’ve a coronary heart for and background in environmental justice points. 

“On November the eighth, democracy is on the poll. On November the eighth, environmental justice is on the poll. On November the eighth, local weather justice is on the poll. On November the eighth, racial justice is on the poll,” Chavis stated.

Chavis was the youngest particular person to be elected Government Director and CEO of the NAACP. He stepped into the position in 1993, however was then fired in 1994.

Chavis can also be credited with coining the time period “environmental racism.” Within the Sixties, he labored alongside MLK, and within the following decade, was unjustly incarcerated for his involvement within the Warren County protest.

Coleman is an creator, MacArthur Grant recipient, and founding father of the Middle for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, who has devoted her profession to researching and elevating consciousness about environmental inequities in rural and marginalized communities.

Utilizing her experience concerning poor sanitation in rural communities, Coleman honed in on how collaborating globally to enhance sanitation might help those that are traditionally marginalized, for instance, by “utilizing the Human Rights Framework [and] Sustainable Growth Targets.” She additionally cited her expertise working overseas and on the White Home with a purpose to spotlight the significance of collaboration and change applications.

Each audio system agreed that although the motion has made vital progress, there may be nonetheless extra to be made. Nonetheless, they expressed that they’re hopeful and optimistic due to the variety of younger individuals, together with at Duke, passionate in regards to the environmental justice motion.

“On this fortieth anniversary as an optimist I’m inspired as a result of I see younger individuals. Younger white individuals, younger Black and Latino individuals, younger Pacific Islander and Asian individuals. I see younger individuals demanding local weather justice. Not ready for the politicians and never even ready for the general public coverage makers,” Chavis stated.

He continued with a lesson he discovered from his time working with MLK stating, “it’s not simply adequate to see an injustice. We [have to] have the braveness to problem that injustice, to vary that injustice.”

“And we’ve got nothing however alternative in the present day. We should always need clear air, clear water, good wholesome meals for all individuals,” Chavis stated.

On the occasion’s conclusion, sophomore Meghna Parameswaran, who attended because of her involvement in a Bass Connections venture and curiosity in environmental justice, referred to as the occasion “fantastically organized.”

“As quickly as they walked out and began talking, I had tears in my eyes,” Parameswaran stated.

“Simply being within the presence of those superb and nice individuals has motivated me to wish to do something that I can to be part of this motion and to be in neighborhood with individuals like them.”


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