July 30, 2023 • In the News

The dominant narrative about cities like Chelsea, Boston, and Flint, Mich. are stories of sickness and chronic underinvestment. But what Chelsea resident Sara Arman sees when she looks at her hometown is proof that things will get better, that the climate movement is “not one of despair.”

“We’ve been organizing for decades on housing, environmental justice, and climate justice,” she said. “[Our story] is one of hope and community power and resilience.”

The resilience of Chelsea and other Massachusetts communities was on display Saturday at the NAACP National Convention, where local and visiting government officials, advocates, and climate experts discussed the urgent need for solutions to protect Black and Brown communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.

The workshop on climate issues offered examples of homegrown solutions that are already underway. Meeting just day after Boston ended a heat emergency, speakers didn’t need to do much to illustrate the urgent need to find equitable solutions to prepare for extreme weather events. Many attendees walked out of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and straight into a severe thunderstorm that tore across the state late Saturday night.

Massachusetts has certainly felt the effects of extreme weather, but that burden is not distributed equally among its residents, one panelist said.

“High-impact weather events disproportionately affect those with the least access to financial resources, including historically underserved communities, the unhoused, and those with health vulnerabilities,” said Michael Morgan, assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That’s especially significant in a city like Boston, where a majority of residents are people of color.

“I know we’re down in the Seaport, but I bring you greetings from Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Hyde Park, the historically Black parts of this city,” said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of Dorchester, the city’s chief of environment, energy and open space.

A climate-resilient society also creates opportunities to “not just talk about where the struggle is, but where we can find great success” and create economic opportunities, she said.

“The recognition that the system we have doesn’t work is not necessarily bad news for us all because it has not worked for our people for a long time,” she said.

She pointed to PowerCorpsBOS, a green jobs training program for underserved communities, as an example of progress.

The six-month training course is open to Boston residents ages 18 to 30 who are either unemployed or underemployed. Participants are paid $15.75 an hour for 35 hours of work preparing for jobs in a greener economy.

The program has graduated two cohorts of 47 people and a third cohort of 38 members started this month, according to White-Hammond.

Arman is the director of health equity and policy at GreenRoots, a community-led environmental justice organization serving Chelsea and East Boston that has been at the forefront of the local climate justice movement.

To combat heat island — urban areas with little shade that plague the communities they serve — GreenRoots is working to transform empty lots into parks and green spaces. Stipends are paid to residents to care for newly planted trees, and manage community gardens.

They also work to advance local climate justice legislation, and advocate for policies to reverse historic disinvestment in communities and reduce their environmental pollution burden.

“This is the result of explicit policies and practices that have segregated, dehumanized, and harmed our communities for years,” she said. “And this is true for so many Black and Brown communities, urban communities, and communities with high levels of immigrant populations, so it’s not a coincidence that these communities are facing the most pressing parts of climate change.”

The only solution for communities to create the change they need, according to Arman, is to mobilize and create stronger collective responses.

 

The panelists spoke as part of a series of workshops offering a look at how Black and Brown communities have created movements to create equity in a variety of areas, such as policing, education and health care.

Local leaders who have been advocating for progress on these issues in Massachusetts highlighted the progress made in the 40 years since the convention was last held in Boston.

Justice Geraldine Hines, the first Black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, spoke about potential reforms and challenges to building a more equitable justice system. Dr. Thea James, Boston Medical Center’s vice president of mission and associate chief medical Officer, was one of several experts who addressed closing the racial gap in health care.

Communities of color that have always faced health inequities merely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Together, the panelists have found inspiration in one another, Arman said.

“We come from really rich organizing histories and practices,” said Arman, who credited White-Hammond with opening her eyes to climate justice, after she spoke about the topic during one of her classes at Tufts University. “Thank you to the leaders of the movement.”