There exists a community and in it is an organizer who is intelligent, passionate, and dynamic. She has focused her efforts on mobilizing the people in that neighborhood to speak up on issues that concern them, and use organized actions to create change. She has become a staple in the neighborhoods, with her own spot in the local coffee shop, and a deep relationships with almost everyone around. She has inspired the people in this community to be more than they thought they could be and one day she is going to leave. On that fateful day when she and organizers from all over must say goodbye to the communities that they have worked so diligently in, what will happen to the people in that community? Will they continue to organize and mobilize each other, will direct actions still take place? A lot of times, the answer to that question is no. The West Harlem Environmental Action Inc. (WE ACT) with their Environmental Health, Leadership and Justice training (EHJLT) has the solution, and its building organizers from within the community.
The EHJLT is a program whose aim is to introduce residents of upper Manhattan to Environmental Justice, Environmental Health, Community Organizing, and Campaign work at large. After completing the training, participants of the EHJLT program will be equipped with appropriate knowledge and tools needed to organize campaigns or projects for WE ACT and/or the broader Environmental/Social Justice movement on their own. The curriculum incorporates workshops to help community members get a better understanding of Environmental Injustices (EJ) in New York City with a focus on Northern Manhattan. Each participant of the program receives an EHJLT manual. Which highlights EJ issues in Northern Manhattan, EJ terminology, definitions, laws/policies, history of EJ and WEACT, tips/resources, basic organizing and advocacy techniques. Currently there are 25 community members participating in this spring’s cohort, which has featured guest speakers
In an effort to keep members interested and the material fresh, WE ACT has had a new person host each session including WE ACT’s Federal Policy Director, Jalonne White-Newsome who did a webinar on clean air and Climate Justice. This year’s training concludes on Earth Day and includes an introductory session on advocacy and political education as well as a graduation ceremony. According to David Chang, WEACT’S Environmental Health Coordinator, the training offers a fresh way to engage members on the issues on a deeper level;
“The opportunity for old and new members to share their ideas is very exciting for me. When they have a better understanding of the issues it usually leads to more input and involvement, on our daily work. So I am very excited about that.”
So far the community seems just as excited about this process, WE ACT member and participant Liz McMillan the process has helped her better connect the issue of environmental justice to her daily life, saying;
“This process has been so beneficial to me, it’s incredible I have had the opportunity to see how much environmental issues connect with our communities in a way that wasn’t always clear. Between that and learning how I can cultivate my own communities by helping to expand access to healthy foods with a community garden, really has me excited for the kind of good I can bring to the people I live with.
Participant Rodney Cromartie of Harlem was happy to see that many of the issues that the community faced could be dealt with by simply using “common sense”, saying;
“Yes, there are definitely problems, but one thing I have learned is that we can take action by simply using common sense when dealing with what we put in our homes, how we eat and where our trash goes. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s something that I feel comfortable doing and that’s a good first start.”
As the conclusion of this program draws near, a change in the way participants look at their communities is already clear, and there is little doubt that this year’s graduates plan to make a difference in their neighborhoods in the way that only people who live there can. A good community organizer has the power to change hearts and minds, but that doesn’t always translate into a way of life. By the end of this program, 25 hearts and minds will be changed, and they will now be equipped with the tools to build a sustainable army of world changers only a door knock away.