Black College Students and Faculty Leave Rio+20 Committed to Making HBCU’s Global Hubs for Sustainable Innovation

(Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) June 20-22, 2012 a delegation of students, faculty and alumni from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) of the United States attended the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development also known as the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Delegates included noted environmental justice scholars, innovators in sustainability, and human rights advocates who are currently advocating for stronger U.S. Environmental and Civil Rights regulations. This delegation is a part of the “Growing HBCU Voices on Climate Change” initiative led by the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University (DSCEJ) and the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative.

On June 21, 2012 The group hosted an official side event entitled “Preparing for Change: Migration, Black America and the Green Economy”. The goal of the side event was to discuss changes within African-American urban populations and the connection to international dialogues on climate and sustainability. Student leaders, Brittani Flowers of Texas Southern University and Payton Wilkins of Dillard University presented on current environmental programs at their universities and possibilities for collaboration between HBCU’s and the Global South. Wilkins discussed DSCEJ’s landmark Minority Worker’s Training Program that prepares community residents in New Orleans, Louisiana for jobs in technical fields including Brownfield Remediation, Weatherization and Hazardous Waste Management. Wilkins emphasized the importance of Black Colleges stating, “Students at HBCU’s have different perspectives then any other type of university because of our experiences as members of a marginalized community…. My goal is to see HBCU’s as the spearhead and leading voice in the creation and promotion of a sustainable, equitable and just future.”

Twenty years ago a delegation of environmental justice activists, academics, faith leaders and policy analysts traveled to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit with a plan to push for environmental and economic justice for communities threatened by pollution, environmental degradation, and unequal protection and enforcement of environmental laws. These Environmental Justice leaders brought with them the “17 Principles of Environmental Justice” created in October of 1991 at the First Multi-National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. Within one year, the Principles of Environmental Justice were translated into a dozen languages and adopted by hundreds of nongovernmental organizations representing millions of disenfranchised peoples from around the world. “The world has changed in twenty years when just a handful of us were here in Rio spreading our environmental justice message.” recalls Dr. Robert D. Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and member of both the previous and most recent delegations. “Although our presence in Rio today has grown in the thousands, environmental injustice persists, while some global threats have intensified such as the threats from climate change,” says Bullard.

The administration of U.S. President, Barack Obama, has taken notable and historic steps to address environmental inequities including re-igniting the Inter-Agency Working Group on Environmental Justice and introducing new regulations on carbon emissions from power plants and motor vehicles. However, several groups feel much more needs to be done to reduce pollution and meet the global climate and sustainability commitments of the United States and other world leaders. Most notably, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s stated during his opening remarks to the UN general assembly “Let me be frank: Our efforts have not lived up to the measure of the challenge… Nature does not negotiate with human beings.” Wilkins agrees that more must be done to achieve global sustainability. “One thing I learned during this trip is that there are no real deadlines on these commitments being made. We need more people engaged in this process so we can get stronger commitments that we can all work to achieve.”

Flowers and Wilkins were joined on the panel by Dr. Bullard, Michele Roberts Campaign and Policy Coordinator for Advocates for Environmental Human Rights and Tony C. Anderson, Morehouse College Alum and Co-Founder/Coordinating Director of Retrofit a Million; an initiative to bring energy efficiency and service learning opportunities to communities of modest means. Nalui Mahin, A university student from Rio De Janeiro was impressed by the panel and was excited to see people of African Descent in the educational sector, “At my university I have no professors who are Black. It means a lot to see people who look like me talking about these issues.” Other attendees included members of the United Nations Environmental Programme and Non-Governmental Organizations from Togo, Ghana and France.

Growing HBCU Voices on Climate Change is a program supported by the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative (EJCC) .EJCC is a coalition of environmental justice, just transition, academic, faith-based and policy organizations working to engage Indigenous Peoples and Communities of Color on just policies for Climate Change and sustainability.

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For more information please contact Kari Fulton, Interim-Director Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative via phone at 202-630-4621 or via e-mail at Kari@theEJCC.org. For more information please visit www.EJCC.org

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