by Tribune Staff

COVERSIDE BARThe HBCU Climate Change Consortium met in early April at Dillard University for its fourth annual conference. The Consortium is led by Dr. Beverly Wright, executive director of Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, and Dr. Robert Bullard, dean of Texas Southern University Barbara Jordan/Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs and was started because of what Dr. Wright and Dr. Bullard saw as the “urgent need” to diversify leadership in the environmental arena.

Their hope is that by raising awareness about the disproportionate impact of climate change on marginalized communities, the Consortium will help develop HBCU student leaders, scientists and advocates on issues related to environmental and climate justice policies, especially in vulnerable communities in the southern United States.

Getting HBCU students involved is especially important. Dr. Bullard notes in an article published on his website that more than 80 percent of the 104 HBCUs are in the southern United States, with 43 located in the Gulf Coast states of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, which he describes as “a vulnerable region of the country where intense hurricanes, drought, flooding, and other climate-sensitive hazards are commonplace.”

In an article he penned for Building Green Initiative, Dr. Bullard talked about why Black college students must get more involved in climate change:

“Climate change is not only an environmental issue–it is also an issue of health, social justice, and human rights. Climate change amplifies existing inequalities–especially inequality that has left African Americans, Africa, and the African diaspora behind.”

The 2016 conference theme was Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Experience. This year’s event attracted more than 300 students, faculty, staff, community leaders and environmental experts to participate in the critical discussion about equity and inclusion in the face of climate change and other environmental justice issues.

Highlights from the five-day conference included the We Are One with Flint panel, which featured Flint, Michigan Mayor Dr. Karen Weaver.

Other presentations included the Plantation-to-Plant Mississippi River Chemical Corridor tour, undergraduate and graduate student panels, a student poster session, and the Green Entrepreneurship Roundtable.

Faculty and students from 22 HBCUs from across the nation participated. But Dr. Wright wants to see more. The goal for next year’s conference is to have at least one student and one faculty representative from 50 HBCUs, she says.

The overall objective is to foster a generation of young Black leaders in all areas of environmental justice.

“We’re working harder to get more students involved, especially locally,” Dr. Wright says.

Addressing the scarcity of Black leadership in environmental justice issues is critical considering that Black communities are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and that these hazards negatively impact health and well-being of residents in Black communities, while also driving down property values in neighborhoods and negatively impacting everything from student performance to community pride.

Dr. Wright recently lamented what she has seen as a lack of interest in environmental justice issues on the part of young Black professionals.

“I look at the millennials; and I say ‘y’all need to wake up.’ Where is the commitment to community? We need one another more than anybody. But I blame my generation. We were so busy trying to give our children everything we didn’t have that we created this generation that is so disconnected.”

Yet, she sees hope for the future through the students she encounters as part of the HBCU Climate Change Consortium.

This year’s conference also included a workshop for high school students, with students from the greater New Orleans area and Detroit coming together to learn more about climate change and its impact.

“We’ve been mentoring. We’ve been attempting to create a pipeline. That’s why we started the HBCU Climate Change Initiative. When you bring young people in and show them what’s happening, show them that these are the communities that they come from, they are ripe for learning.”

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