Growing up in the South Bronx, Majora Carter watched as her neighborhood was taken over by waste treatment and sewage plants and became a healthy food “desert.” Along with these environmental issues came major health concerns such as asthma and childhood obesity. It was a “poor community of color and therefore politically vulnerable,” Carter said during a talk on November 13 at Saint Mary’s College of California sponsored by CILSA.
After college, she moved back home to help pay for graduate school and witnessed continuing environmental violations in her neighborhood. There were plans to put a new waste facility on the waterfront of the South Bronx, and Carter was painfully aware of the consequences this would have.
Starting with a $10,000 grant from a USDA Forest Service, she worked with neighborhood groups and the Parks Department to leverage that small seed fund into more than $3 million from the mayor’s budget. After years of fighting, she and other neighborhood activists were able to transform this waterfront wasteland into a community park with walking paths, green space and a safe place for children to play.
Carter believes that the environment in which one lives reflects the culture of that community, and this new area offered beauty and a recreational area for the neighborhood. The green space offered exercise areas as well as better air quality, both of which contributed positively to the health of the community. The creation of the park and other greenways throughout the area also provided jobs for a community that was economically challenged, and local hiring allowed money to stay within the community instead of going to outside contractors.
For her work, Carter has received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Community Service from New York University, the Rachel Carson Award from the National Audubon Society and a Peabody Award, among many other honors.
This passion has translated into many other projects, including a job training service – Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST) – and Home(town) Security Laboratories.
BEST helps to provide jobs and skills training for the community. By working to create a more green community, Carter has developed projects that are sustainable, both environmentally and economically. The training program is working to create green roofs within the community, which will help cut down on the cost of purifying storm water runoff by absorbing most rainfall. It also provides jobs for community members that cannot be outsourced as well as interview and skills training so people can find and keep jobs. As Carter says, BEST helps “create a completely new type of behavior.”
Home(town) Security Laboratories works to redefine real estate development within poorer communities. Its goal is to create an economically diverse neighborhood that preserves the whole spectrum of wealth within the community instead of having more affluent members move out. Carter said she hopes Home(town) Security Laboratories will “solve big problems with local solutions.”
Finding local solutions is a theme throughout Carter’s work, and she credits education for helping her to make an impact on the local level and beyond. She said it was education that allowed her to understand the problems and work toward the change that is possible for the South Bronx. Once the community learned that environmental issues were adding to their health problems, they banded together to change policy. Education was the catalyst for redefining a whole neighborhood, she said, and this spark allowed the local community members to change their environment from the inside out.
As Carter said, “Education is always the key… . What people don’t see they won’t believe, so they need to see that there are other opportunities out there for them.”
Carter has been a visionary for her own neighborhood – using her education and passion to empower the people of the South Bronx to fight unfair policies and transform their community. She said she will continue her work in the South Bronx through Home(town) Security Laboratories as she strives to redefine the real estate industry and instill hope and optimism into the peoples’ lives so they can create change for themselves.
By Julie Cozzetto ’13
Additional support for this program was provided by the Campus Activities Board, CCIE, the Honors Program, the Leadership Studies Program, the School of Economics and Business Administration, the Social Justice Coordinating Committee and the Staff Council.