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Community lecture addresses environmental justice in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day


The sun peeks over Sample Gates. Ty Vinson

Students, teachers and community members discussed economic activism in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday in a teach-in at the Wright Education building.

The teach-in, a form of informal lecture or discussion, was an effort to engage the community in social justice issues, said Stephanie Power-Carter, an associate professor in the Department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education.

“We need to understand the complexities in what Dr. King fought for, not to put him on a pedestal but so we can be thoughtful about the ways that we engage in the world,” Power-Carter said. 

The teach-in focused on three aspects of environmental justice: environmental racism, environmental justice in relation to the food supply and environmental justice in health, Power-Carter said. At the end of the event, attendees were encouraged to write letters to the government.

Later in the event, participants split into discussion groups. The environmental racism discussion talked about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and the lack of aid given to Puerto Rico after being hit by hurricanes. The group also brought up examples of environmental racism closer to home, like being viewed differently by your neighbor because of the community you live in. 

The event was sponsored by the IU School of Education, the Monroe County Community School Corporation and the City of Bloomington. Around 30 people attended.

In the auditorium, Power-Carter led an open conversation about King and the different activism ideals he fought for. She discussed how he fought for more than racial equality.

“He was an activist — he was a champion of civil rights in the deepest way,” Power-Carter said. “He did all kinds of things. We want people to see him as ‘Yes, let’s come together and hold hands and unite,’ but we also want people to understand that he fought for that.”

Rafi-Khalid Hasan, the equity and inclusion coordinator for Monroe County Community School Corporation, said taking part in and discussing activism is an important way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I’ve always believed that we monumentalize people by making sure we heard them,” Hasan said. “Not statues, not special events, but that we heard them.”

Talking about environmental justice honor's King's work by showing students how to be conscious as global citizens, Hasan said.

CéAira Waymon, a senior at Bloomington High School North, said the voices of people facing environmental injustice and racism are not being heard despite having something to contribute to society. 

“Environmental racism is happening in our communities and in America,” Waymon said. “Even though I’m not directly affected by it, people who look like me and are like me are.”

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