Big grey poufs

Published 10:34 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

To the Editor:

I remember when I first noticed the big grey poufs in the sky being expelled from a paper mill in Franklin, Virginia. These ominous poufs were deceiving, almost resembling dark rain clouds but smokier and faster-moving. I often wondered what happened once the stuff coming from the paper mill dissolved into the air — what its effect was on those living amongst the haze. That question has stuck with me, and for the first time, I’m learning the answer — over two decades later.

I first began questioning those big grey poufs in 1997. Today, in 2018, a vast number of African- Americans and other marginalized citizens in Virginia and across our nation are still wondering the same thing when they look up toward the sky.

Why? Because African-Americans and other marginalized citizens are commonly left out of conversations about environmental hazards in our communities and how these hazards impact our health.

As one who grew up in an African-American community, I can confidently say that we are not only underexposed to information about how our environment affects us — we also live in communities that experience greater levels of pollution and are more impacted by climate change. If a new compressor station needs to be built, guess where it’s most likely to go — in or around an economically-challenged minority community. And who won’t have a voice in the internal conversations that ultimately decide where that new compressor station should be placed? The individuals who make up the target community that’s who.

How will our Commonwealth and nation move forward if those of us facing these environmental injustices are being left behind?

African-Americans and other minority citizens have been excluded from these important conversations for far too long. We care deeply about clean water, breathing fresh air and being exposed to environmental hazards. We want to be at the table when decisions are being made for our communities, and we also want to be taken seriously when we come to the table with complaints about the injustices we’ve endured. It is only right that we be heard.

Twenty-one years later, I finally understand that the big grey poufs erupting into the air are suffocating communities like the one I grew up in. This should be a crime. Every year we elect officials whose primary function in governance is to make policies that are in the best interest of their constituents. However, we are witnessing elected officials being brought out by corporations and only looking out for their own interest. This must stop.

We are asking that our basic needs be provided for by not allowing big corporations to be negligent in our communities. To not allow corporations who spend millions in campaign donations to base the quality of our lives on their profit margins. As the government expects of its citizens it should expect the same from its corporations. If we litter there’s a fine, if we are found polluting someone’s water that’s a criminal offense, the same should be for corporations.

Our elected officials took an oath to take care of the people. Their duty should be to promote policy that protects us all and our families. Together we should take a stand against environmental injustices not just at the state levels but nationally. We are asking our government to join us in taking a stand. They live on this planet too, don’t they?

BeKura Shabazz