Majora Carter: Home(town) Security
Najha Zigbi-Johnson, Contributor
October 25, 2011
Filed under Headlines
This past September, eco-entrepreneur, Majora Carter spoke to the Westtown community at the first Shoemaker lecture of the academic year about what she calls, “Home(town) Security.” Her lecture was about her community, the South Bronx, which is disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and waste. Majora explained how these hazards ended up in the South Bronx as a result of government laws and policies that allow companies to locate waste water treatment plants, waste transfer stations, highways and other polluting facilities through economically devastated neighborhoods.
The South Bronx is an extremely segregated and economically disadvantaged neighborhood. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, and is one of the largest African American communities in New York. Once a more racially and economically mixed community, the South Bronx suffered from the construction of a highway connecting the suburbs to Manhattan which divided the community, bank redlining (in which banks literally drew red lines around neighborhoods which were not to receive mortgage loans), and “white flight” during the civil rights movement. Weakened by this history, the community was easily taken advantage of by corporations seeking to locate undesirable, polluting industries in New York City. These companies have bought out tracks of land, for unsustainable projects that are detrimental to the people living in the area. Projects such as waste transfer stations and a sewage pelletizing plant now cluster in the South Bronx. Majora was the first person to receive national attention when she said that the South Bronx should and could be more than a wasteland for New York City’s trash, and diesel fuel emission from the thousands of cars and trucks that drive through it each day.
Majora has dedicated her life to creating positive change within her community. Her work directly combats the negative environmental impacts the South Bronx unfairly receives, and it brings economic and environmental benefits to the community. She has created jobs programs that restore the environment and uplift the community. Majora talked about the direct correlation between environmental, social and economic sustainability and spoke passionately about giving residents the tools to change their community for the better. Majora has pioneered one of America’s leading green collar job training and placement programs that teaches disadvantaged people how to remediate the Bronx River, reduce storm water runoff, construct green rooks and generally get paid to create a more sustainable community. She connected the need for jobs with the need to combat the environmental monstrosities facing her neighborhood.
Majora has also initiated community projects within the South Bronx that create a healthier and safer environment. An example is her work to create the Hunts Point Park along the East river that runs parallel to the Bronx and runs into the Atlantic. The South Bronx has one of the lowest park-to-people ratios in the New York City, and its asthma rate is one of the highest in the country. The park’s trees help improve air quality, and the open-space can be used for walking and other physical activity, both which contribute directly to improved public health. Importantly, this project not only helps counter serious problems, it also gives the residents of the community collective ownership in something positive. These are the types of initiatives and change Majora works to create.
Majora was the founding director of Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), a non-profit environmental justice group that runs environmental stewardship programs geared towards community members. While running SSBx, Majora was invited to speak all over the country and asked to help plan environmentally sustainable projects in communities outside of New York. This led her to eventually leave SSBx in order to help other communities throughout the United States and even internationally. She does this through a for-profit green consulting company called the Majora Carter Group. The programs and projects she helps create not only provide jobs but also give workers and community members leadership responsibility for their community.
Majora presented another side of environmentalism that often times is overlooked. She spoke to us about environmental burdens and how they directly relate to social and economic sustainability. Majora believes that to be sustainable we must create power within all communities and empower all people so that they have a voice and can create positive change. Too often it is easy to place environmental burdens on others who live in impoverished communities. Their plight is “out of sight out of mind” to the rest of society. Majora reminds us that, in the end, this system affects everyone. Rather than sitting back and watching injustices happen all around her, Majora has been extremely proactive in creating programs that empower communities and give individuals the tools to create not only a better environment, but better opportunities for themselves and the people around them.
Majora is not the typical environmentalist that talks about habitat conservation or eating grass-fed meet and buying local. Rather, she works with people to create initiatives that combine environmental, social and economic benefits to better their lives, uplift their spirits, beautify their communities and improve their health. Majora believes “that you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.” As citizens of a world facing many environmental and economic challenges I believe Majora Carter inspires us to work collectively to better every aspect of life.