MEJC’s “Fireside Chats” are a series that will be a source of information and serve as a catalyst to activate people around Environmental and Climate Justice issues around the state. To sign up and register for this event use this link.
The people of Field & Fire Bakery & Cafe have a reputation for doing good. They have regularly donated unsold bread to pantries and non-profits and held annual fundraisers for Grand Rapids Public Schools, Blandford Nature Center, Feeding West Michigan, The Pantry, and Well House.
Cherry Health will host a virtual panel discussion on Juneteenth titled, “Shifting from Moment to Movement.” The livestream event, which will feature local leaders and change agents, is focused on continuing the conversation around the Black Lives Matter movement, policing and policy changes, and organizational diversity and inclusion, with the goal of providing perspective on moving beyond the inequities in our community to turn this moment into a movement.
WHAT: ‘Shifting from Moment to Movement’ Virtual Panel Discussion
WHEN: 2 p.m., Friday, June 19, 2020
WHERE: Visit Cherry Health’s Facebook page to access the livestream:
Moderator Tasha Blackmon – President and CEO, Cherry Health
- Micah Foster – Executive Director, Grand Rapids African American Institute
- Graci Harkema – President and CEO, Graci LLC
- Joe Jones – President and CEO, Urban League of West Michigan
- Michelle LaJoye-Young – Kent County Sheriff
- Tessa K. Muir – President, Junior League of Grand Rapids
FIELD & FIRE BAKERY & CAFE!
Reposted from Beyond Nuclear
“Black communities get more promises than jobs — and they get pollution and they get sick”
By Linda Pentz Gunter
Systemic racism in the nuclear industrial complex has endured for decades. Every community of color has been affected. As we confront the wider impact of centuries of racism in the US, we take a closer look specifically at discrimination against African Americans in the nuclear power sector.
The shackles of slavery may be gone, but there is now a knee on the neck of African American voices, whether literal or metaphorical, when it comes to challenging injustice. And it is there when confronting the bias of the nuclear power industry and other lethal polluters. It is quite deliberately there. It is there not only to oppress — and in the case of George Floyd to kill — but to silence and disenfranchise. To stunt movements for change.
That is perhaps how the NAACP’s A.C. Garner, felt after the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) dismissed black concerns over a proposed new nuclear power plant in Mississippi in 2005. It was, he said, like “posting a ‘WHITES ONLY’ sign on the hearing room door.”
Garner’s statement was a reaction to a January 19, 2005 decision by the NRC to grant permission for a second nuclear reactor to be built at the Grand Gulf site in Mississippi. It was to be built in the poorest county in the state, itself the poorest state in the union.
It would join Grand Gulf Unit 1, opened in 1985 in the Claiborne County city of Port Gibson, and would be known as Grand Gulf Unit 3, as all there is of Unit 2 is an empty concrete pad— the plant owners, Entergy, having asked the NRC to revoke that planned reactor’s license in 1991.
Grand Gulf 1, the largest single unit in the country, with an output of around 1,500 MW, is located in a community that is 87% African American, with a poverty rate of 46% according to census data. The median household income in Claiborne County is $24,601 per year. At least 35% of the population depends on Medicaid. The Covid-19 infection rate there is still headed on an upward trajectory.
Back in 2005, the county was already ill prepared for a health crisis of any sort. It had just one crumbling hospital, struggling to meet the needs of a deprived community and with zero capacity to handle a nuclear emergency. Evacuation routes were washed out and impassible. The police force was completely under-equipped.
“The county doesn’t even have a hospital that’s open 24 hours, and there’s only one fire station in the entire county,” Rose Johnson, chairwoman of the Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club, told the Jackson Free Press at the time. “The situation should send chills down the spines of anyone who lives within a 100-mile radius of Port Gibson.”
Why such deprivation? Why weren’t Port Gibson and Claiborne County flush with the tax revenues the plant should have brought in? Because in 1986, fearing price hikes for the “too cheap to meter” electricity generated by Grand Gulf nuclear Unit 1, Entergy succeeded in getting the predominantly white Mississippi legislature to pass a bill to redistribute more than 70% of those tax revenues to 47 other counties in the state. It is the only reactor community in the country that does not reap the lion’s share of its nuclear plant tax dollars.
The law left an already poor black community even more desperately deprived. But it pre-empted any complaints about increased electricity costs from whiter communities elsewhere in the state.
By the time of the 2005 NRC decision, the agency had also conveniently ruled that issues of environmental justice such as racism, fairness and economic equity would not be considered litigable during reactor licensing proceedings. It was a move clearly designed to silence black voices. “Whites Only” was indeed firmly nailed to the door.
It’s an old story, one of systemic racism throughout the nuclear sector.
It began with the uranium mining conducted largely by Native Americans, without protection and unaware of the health risks. It continued with the Trinity test, irradiating downwinders, many of them from Native American and Hispanic communities.
Then the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an act of racism that did not pass unnoticed by the African American community, many of whom — including Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, James Baldwin, and Marian Anderson — came out to join the nuclear freeze movement.
The US atomic tests carried out overseas blasted the atolls of the Marshallese, treated as guinea pigs and described by a US official as “more like us than mice.” The domestic tests were conducted on land belonging to the Western Shoshone.
The British tested their bombs at Maralinga in Australia, on Aboriginal homelands. The Belgians mined their uranium in the African Congo. The French tested atomic weapons on Algerians in the Sahara, then moved to the South Pacific islands.
Back in the US, Hispanic communities such as Sierra Blanca, TX were targeted for nuclear waste dumps, a trend that has continued; with the choice of Yucca Mountain, on Western Shoshone land, as the place to host the country’s high-level nuclear waste; with the imposition of unwanted new nuclear reactors and the huge nuclear weapons complex at the Savannah River Site, which would poison black communities. And on and on.
It is a culture and a practice that have never changed. In a 2016 paper — Emerging Environmental Justice Issues in Nuclear Power and Radioactive Contamination — published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, academics Dean Kyne and Bob Bolin noted that the NRC’s “growing constraints” in public participation spoke to “who is or is not recognized as worthy of inclusion in decision-making regarding the allocation of hazard burdens.”
They described the culture at the NRC as reinforcing “a tradition of secrecy, denial, and misinformation that has long been part of the nuclear industrial complex.”
They further noted that while “federal agencies are mandated to identify and address adverse human health and environmental impacts on minority and low-income populations,” this does not apply to the NRC, for whom it is “not mandatory” but merely “voluntary.” In allowing this level of discretion over what issues may be considered an environmental justice concern, “not surprisingly, 76 percent were labeled as being of ‘small significance’,” the authors wrote.
“The NRC once again bowed to its master — the nuclear industry — to pave the way for construction in an area where they expect least resistance,” said Garner of the Grand Gulf 3 debacle. (As it turns out, Entergy canceled Grand Gulf 3 in February 2015, when its lousy economics finally wouldn’t stand up).
The forced imposition of a dangerous and polluting industrial installation on a poor community of color in desperate need of jobs remains an age-old tactic of corporations and governments. In challenging Grand Gulf 3 before its cancelation, residents of Port Gibson rightly asked why, if a new nuclear power plant was such an economy-boosting bonanza, the area was still the poorest in the country two decades after the first reactor came on line?
Residents of Burke County, Georgia, are asking similar questions. The county itself is about evenly divided between black and white populations, but the communities of Shell Bluff and Waynesboro, poor and black, have been the hardest hit by nuclear installations in the area. Today, 40.9% of the children there live below the federal poverty line, with a higher rate of childhood poverty than 86.8% of U.S. neighborhoods. Waynesboro is 70.4% black.
The poisoning of surrounding communities began in the 1950s, when an entire town was relocated to make way for the massive Savannah River Site (SRS) atomic bomb factory just across the river and state line, near Aiken, SC— the place where tritium and plutonium was produced for nuclear weapons.
In the 1980s, a whistleblower named William Lawless revealed how the US Department of Energy, which owns SRS, had been dumping cardboard boxes filled with nuclear waste into trenches, where the boxes had leaked their deadly inventory into the groundwater.
In 1987, two nuclear reactor units came on line at Plant Vogtle, just 10 miles from Shell Bluff and 18 miles from Waynesboro. Cancer rates started to creep up. Then, against the objections of the local black community, the green light was given for two more reactors to be built at Plant Vogtle.
The decision was made all the more painful given that it was Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, who came in person to announce the Vogtle 3 and 4 go-ahead, sweetening it with a $8.3 billion federal loan guarantee and flanked for his big media moment by two white guys. Meanwhile, Vogtle 3 and 4 are both still under construction, wildly over budget and way behind schedule and with a micro-epidemic of Covid-19 cases among the workforce.
9am Registration, free bike tune ups & giveaways. 9:30am begin cycling. 11am arrive to Rosa Park Circle. 12pm– “Am I Next” Peaceful Rally Rosa Park Circle.
Note: Black Lives Matter – Grand Rapids did not create this event or orchestrate the rally, nor have they been organizing along with 4Unity, the team behind it. See their note below the image.
Today, Our Kitchen Table remembers the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. May we all move forward in that spirit of justice and compassion throughout 2016.
In conjunction with GVSU Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Week Celebration, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors, will facilitate a dialogue with local community activists about organizing for social justice from 3 to 4 p.m.on Wednesday, January 20, 2016 at Grand Valley State University Pere Marquette Room, Kirkhof Center, Allendale campus.
Community activists and organizers who would like to attend should RSVP to Melissa Baker-Boosamra, GVSU Office of Student Life (email@example.com). Your RSVP will also grant you a parking pass.
Following the community workshop, Ms. Cullors will present a 4:30 p.m. keynote presentation in the Grand River Room, Kirkhof Center, Allendale campus, which will be simulcast to an audience at Eberhard Center, Telecommunications Auditorium, Pew Campus, Grand Rapids.
On Saturday Jan. 28, Our Kitchen Table will host a group of GVSU students as part of the commemoration’s MLK Jr. Day of Service and Solidarity. For a list of all the week’s events, click here.
OKT hosts the last session of its 2015 Food Justice series Saturday, 10 a.m. to noon at Garfield Park Lodge, 334 Burton St. SE. We will discuss how we each can work for food justice here in Grand Rapids. Stop on by!
In the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the death of Michael Brown, the Baltimore uprising after the death of Freddie Gray, and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, much has been written about the nature of poverty and violence in American cities. But one aspect that is chronically underreported is the lack of access to healthy foods in many of those same communities. Indeed, the reliance on a highly processed food supply is causing disease, suffering, and eventual death, especially to those in the poorest of neighborhoods.
A report released this June by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that one in four Baltimore residents lives in an under-resourced area or “food desert” (a term that some food activists reject). This is not unusual or unique to Baltimore, but is the standard in urban centers throughout the country. Only eight percent of Black Americans live in a community with one or more grocery stores, compared to 31 percent of white Americans.
And while food is by no means at the center of the Black Lives Matter movement, it could emerge as an important corollary issue in the months and years to come.
“The fact is, I can’t get an organic apple for 10 miles,” said Ron Finley, known as the “gangsta gardener,” who lives in South Central, Los Angeles. “Why is it like that? Why don’t certain companies do business in these so-called communities? ‘Oh there’s no money,’ they say—there’s money. If there’s no money than why are there drugstores here? Why are the dialysis centers here? Why are there fast food restaurants? What there is, is disregard for these places.”
The disregard that Finley speaks of has vast implications for the health of people living in areas with little access to healthy, whole foods. Meaning that a significant threat to Black lives comes from our food supply itself—from the glut of fast food and other highly processed food options and the virtually unregulated chemical additives that lace these foods.
The rates of diet-related disease break down dramatically along racial lines. African Americans get sick at younger ages, have more severe illnesses, and die sooner than white Americans. The American Journal of Public Health found that Blacks scored almost 50 percent higher than whites on a measurement called Allostatic Load, the 10 biomarkers of aging and stress. While there are clearly multiple factors at work, diet plays a significant role in these findings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate of obesity for African Americans is 51 percent higher than for white Americans and one in two African Americans born in the year 2000 is expected to develop type 2 diabetes. Compared with white adults, the risk of diabetes is 77 percent higher among blacks. The rates of death from heart disease and stroke are almost twice as high among African Americans.
Just as our economy has become starkly stratified with wealth concentrated at the top, it is increasing clear that we live in a two-tiered food system in which the wealthy tend to eat well and are rewarded with better health, while the poor tend to eat low-quality diets, causing their health to suffer. A report released last year by the Harvard School of Public Health found that while diet quality improved among people of high socioeconomic status, it deteriorated among those at the other end of the spectrum, and the gap doubled between 2000 and 2010. African Americans experience the highest rate of poverty in the U.S.—25.8 percent, compared to 11.6 percent of whites. And 45.8 percent of young Black children live in poverty compared with 14.5 percent of white children.
Dr. Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham, Sr., President of the Matthew A. Henson Neighborhood Association in Baltimore said he sees this in his community. “Stop allowing there to be two Baltimores,” he wrote in an email. “Have the Health Department and our elected officials place more funding and more emphasis on poorer, neglected, communities….”
The solution to food inequality has traditionally been framed as a problem of access and education: Bring healthy foods into under-served communities and educate those living there on healthy eating, the argument goes. But just as getting oneself out of poverty is far more complicated than working hard and getting an education, maintaining a healthy body by “choosing” to eat well is far more complex than making simple decisions about what to eat in our current food landscape.
In both cases, the ideology of “personal responsibility” is invoked, which fails to address deeper, structural issues like the myriad causes and effects of poverty. As author and University of California Santa Cruz professor Julie Guthman puts it, “Built environments reflect social relations and political dynamics…more than it creates them.”
When we frame the problem in terms of simplistic solutions, like “better access to fruits and vegetables” or “education about healthy eating” the underlying structures remain and the food, agricultural, and chemical industries are not impacted at all. As Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writes in his new book Between The World And Me, “The purpose of the language of … ‘personal responsibility’ is broad exoneration.”
I asked Karen Washington, a food activist and farmer at Rise & Root Farm in the Bronx, what she thought about creating better access in “food deserts.” “Bringing a grocery store into food insecure neighborhoods is not the answer,” she wrote in a recent email. “What needs to be addressed is the cause of food insecurity; the reason for hunger and poverty. Do you really think that bringing a supermarket into an impoverished neighborhood, where people have no jobs and no hope is the solution? Heck no!”
According to the latest U.S. Department of Labor report, the rate of Black unemployment is more than double the rate of white unemployment—9.1 and 4.2 percent, respectively. Workers wages have been stagnant across the board for the past decade but for black workers, wages have fallen by twice as much as they have for whites in the past five years.
Washington says that the bottom line is that people need jobs. “No one talks about job creation, business enterprises, or entrepreneurships in low-income communities,” she said. “We have to start owning our own businesses, like farmers’ markets, food hubs, and food cooperatives. When you own something it gives you power.”
Finley wants to see more people growing food for themselves and their neighbors. He says the focus is too often merely about bringing food into communities. “People don’t have any skin in the game. I want people to have some kind of hand in their food. I don’t care how rich you are, if you don’t have a hand in your food, you’re enslaved,” he said.
Of course, it’s critical to point out that for many people of color, the danger of immediate bodily harm is far more pressing than concerns about long-term health effects. As Washington sees it, it doesn’t make sense to apply the Black Lives Matter Movement directly to food. “The only correlation is that people are tired of the injustices that plague their communities each and every day and are starting to take action and matters into their own hands,” she said.
But it’s also clear that the Black Lives Matter movement is expanding. “We are broadening the conversation around state violence to include all of the ways in which Black people are intentionally left powerless at the hands of the state,” reads the group’s website.
It’s crucial to bring issues around food and health into dialogue with discussions of structural racism, poverty, and violence in this country. “What are they feeding us if we have more diseases than we’ve ever had before in certain communities?” asks Finley. “You have asthma, hypertension, diabetes, obesity—and all of this stuff is food-related.”
Finley says this makes for an obvious connection to the Black Lives Matter movement. “We’re under siege and a lot of these communities are being occupied and terrorized—by food companies,” he said.