Say the names of black people who have been recently killed: Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade.
Don’t stop there. Commit to making changes, in ourselves, in social settings, in organized settings, and in the systems that we work in, live in, and are governed by.
As I’m writing this, I’m aware that I’m speaking to myself as much as I am speaking to you. I own my hesitancy, my inadequacies, my hiding. And I’m stepping in. I’m committing to doing better.
If you say, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to start”, you are avoiding responsibility and you have not been listening. Pick a resource to read, and start the work. I’m not an expert. I’m stepping into the conversation because I must.
There are three areas of change that are on my mind: personal change, policing, and systemic change.
Personal Change: I know this is hard. Don’t look away, and don’t stop. You know where you are in this path. Step in. Take the next step.
The recent book that I’m working through a second time is Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad. Her approach is invitational: be a good ancestor. Her work is spiritual-based, but not exclusive. Lacking melanin or blessed with melanin, you can read her book and grow.
Policing: Black people are dying at the hands of police. Don’t argue the nuances to this. Don’t look away. There are changes that must happen. Researched, vetted changes are voiced by Campaign Zero and by the demands of the NAACP. Police decisions are made mostly at the local level. So, where I live, the township is the place to raise the topic, and insist that the police make structural and training changes.
Systemic Change: I’m working in environmental and educational fields. People of color are underrepresented. This has been shown to be a problem of white supremacy, not a problem black people need to solve. White people need to make the changes. The system has to change.
One organization that has started researched and targeted work on changing barriers to people of color in the workforce is the National Science Foundation. Their program GOLD-EN identified the systemic and cultural barriers to people of color, and set up four funded projects to address the systemic problem. I can’t tell you that this is the way to go, but I can tell you that there are models to research and learn from, and this is one of them. https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2020/nsf20058/nsf20058.jsp
Are things in turmoil right now? Yes. Am I very sad? Yes. Do I have hope? Yes. Change is hard, and change is life-long, and change is generational.
An image that is meaningful to me is one that Valarie Kaur put forth a couple of years ago. If you are in despair, consider that maybe we are not in the darkness of the tomb, but we are in the darkness of the womb. What are women told when they are birthing a child into the world?
In order for our society to be fair and equitable, the systems that protect white culture have to dramatically change, and stop protecting white people at the expense and cost to everyone else.
How can schools access resources as you improve your environmentally sustainable practices? Our overarching goal, of course, is to take care of the earth so that the earth can take care of us. The earth provides air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, and space to live for each of us, but we are all aware that these resources are being severely challenged. We need to address these challenges in multiple ways.
When you are learning and teaching about water issues, consider Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) resources for education and for stormwater (rainwater) management project support. Our collective dependence on water is a watershed-wide issue, crossing city and even state boundaries and requiring a regional approach as we experience current needs, solve problems, and plan for the future.
To understand and teach about water, first, understand where you are in your watershed. The Philadelphia Water Department has an interactive map that places you within the watersheds of Philadelphia. Most of us are in the Delaware River Watershed because our local rivers are tributaries to the Delaware River.
Second, understand where your drinking water comes from, where your sewage is treated, and where the stormwater on your school property travels as it makes its way to the local river. The Philadelphia Water Department educational programs for teachers and for children provide opportunities throughout the year. There are field trips to Fairmount Water Works or water treatment plants, teacher workshops or stormwater best management tours, and online resources, including an urban watershed curriculum. Their website is a hub for PWD educational opportunities.
Third, increase management of your own stormwater. By doing so, you can recharge ground water, reduce flooding in the watershed, beautify your school campus and improve the local natural environment. The Green City Clean Waters Program in Philadelphia is a plan for managing the stormwater in Philadelphia. This model can be replicated throughout the region, and the tools and green infrastructures highlighted on this website can inform your conversation with professionals as you take charge of the water resource raining down on your school property.
A few of the many other leaders addressing water issues include:
The Franklin Institute manages the Philadelphia Climate & Urban Systems Partnership (Philly CUSP); a community of local stakeholders who share a passion for engaging residents in climate change issues, and interact frequently to learn how to do so better. For more information, email CUSP@fi.edu.
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University reaches the public through The Center for Environmental Policy, using evening Town Square programs and Urban Sustainability Forums.
The Overbrook Environmental Education Center successfully turned a brownfield into a showcase of best management practices for stormwater, and is a hub of sustainable environmental and technological education and activity.