by Rich Gittens, Green Team Lead for GIPL African American Clergy Engagement Pilot
The short, easy answer is … Valerie Hill-Rawls, who has the very long title of, “GIPL African American Creation Care Environmental Justice Pilot Community Engagement Project Manager.” Some months ago Valerie made a presentation at my church, Emmanuel Lutheran, and talked quite passionately about a phrase that I’d not heard used before that day. That phrase was, “environmental justice.” Now, I like to consider myself a fairly articulate guy. I understand “environmental” and I understand “justice” … but I’d not heard them used together. And while the implication seemed pretty clear, I wasn’t sure. So I raised my hand and I asked. From then on I was hooked.
There is a more complicated, more involved answer that, strangely enough, is quite easily articulated. Take a “walk” through any poor, all-too-often African American, community in any city in any state of this country, and take a look around. Not at the blight or the “food deserts” or the outward signs of poverty which, God knows, there are plenty of. Look, rather at city planning maps and railroad tracks and truck routes; look at infrastructure. Look at the very visible race line drawn down, for example, DeKalb Avenue by the train tracks.
What’s more, take a look at more upscale communities with more upscale incomes, more upscale homes, and everything from Walmart to Sprouts within 5 minutes of my garage. I live in a community where homes are valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars … and every few hours a freight train rumbles through, whistle blaring as it crosses vehicular traffic intersections. Was there an accident in planning? Did someone draw in a zig where there should have been a zag? I wanted to know, then I wanted to do something … and Valerie showed me what I could do. What followed was something of a whirlwind education consisting of a Power Wise Energy Audit, congregational engagement events, a screening of National Geographic film “Before The Flood” followed by a panel discussion, a Sacred Activism Workshop, the development of the Emmanuel Lutheran Green Team and implementation plan, and the upcoming Waste Wise Workshop to be hosted by us here at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, GIPL, and the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Resilience.
In the spirit of full disclosure, however, I must state that because the incidence of prostate cancer and death from prostate cancer in African American men is more than twice that of White men, my “at-bottom interest” in environmental justice is prostate cancer education in the African American community. That said, for these and probably some as yet unrealized reasons, I became a Green Team Lead.
Rich Gittens is a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, one of GIPL’s African American Clergy Engagement Pilot church participants. He is active in exploring ways to green the church’s campus–inside and out and has been a vital member of the Pilot project.