Environmental Justice in the Chesapeake Watershed: Diversity
We have noticed in Chesapeake Watershed restoration efforts a shifting focus towards achieving an environmentally just Bay, where all may enjoy the benefits of the environment. This is reflected in some of the presentations at the Chesapeake Watershed Forum, in the new Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, in programs across the watershed and in work done at the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.
Shanita Brown conducting one of her focus groups on the African American community’s involvement in environmentalism in Annapolis, MD.
Shanita Brown of the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay recently reported on environmentalism in the African-American community. As a part of the Chesapeake Conservation Corps, a Chesapeake Bay Trust program that connects young people with organizations for a yearlong volunteership, Brown conduced two focus groups that informed her report. In these groups, Brown wanted to find an answer the question: how involved is Annapolis’ African American community in the Environment?
Brown went about answering this question by asking about major concerns in the community, relationships with the natural environment, involvement with environmental groups and environmentalism in general. Participants spoke to their social and environmental concerns, saying that they are both equally important.
“I never actually been to Sandy Point because it cost too much for my family to go but we go over it [the Bay Bridge] a lot.”
Many told stories of the degradation of natural features and the decrease in access to nature. One woman saying: “I never actually been to Sandy Point because it cost too much for my family to go but we go over it [the Bay Bridge] a lot.” Overall, participants felt that their communities were not well included in Bay restoration efforts, and not allowed access to the benefits of the environment, despite their environmental concerns and desire to contribute. This reveals the importance of reaching out to racially and culturally diversity communities.
Brown’s report not only illustrated the importance of acting, but offered advice on how to do so. Feedback from focus group participated indicated that working on a small scale, collaboratively with local leaders was an important start.
Young adults get paid to build rain gardens during the summer with READY.
The Alliance and others have taken this approach in engagement programs. Through partnerships the Alliance has developed programs like Trees for Sacred Places, RiverWise Congregations and the READY program that reach out to communities traditionally not included in restoration efforts. By developing lasting relationships with communities, we can truly work together to improve the watershed for the enjoyment of all people.
Focusing on improving racial and cultural diversity is a shift in how many have approached bay restoration in the past. The Chesapeake Bay Program and its partners have implored states to achieve the outcome of a strong, diverse stewardship community in the Watershed Agreement. This is a new area for the Bay Program and experts in the watershed are currently developing strategies to achieve this outcome.
How diversity in environmental efforts might come about was addressed in a Chesapeake Watershed Forum workshop called “Achieving the Goal of Stewardship”. Other sessions, such as a plenary by Matthew Tejada of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, also addressed the complexities of and connections between environmental work and social equality.
There is a palpable need to increase the diversity of people involved in restoration that many across the watershed are addressing in their work. Thus, it is clear that the goal of improving the watershed for all people is shared baywide and gaining momentum.
Download the full report: How Involved is Annapolis’ African American Community in the Environment? (.pdf)