Changing the color of the Environmental MovementOct 31st, 2009 | By Jessica Retis | Category: English-language stories Tweet
BY YAZMIN CRUZ
Alex Dorsey, 38, starts her day at six in the morning by making sure her son Brandon, 17, has a healthy breakfast before she drives him to school.
In between the morning hassle, she finds time to meditate but that is the last time she will find herself resting until her day ends at 9:30 pm.
Dorsey is the general manager for Equitable Roots, a nonprofit organization under the umbrella of Women Organizing Resources Knowledge and Services (W.O.R.K.S.), which aims to provide access to organic produce for individuals of modest means throughout LA County, she says.
“The work we do is challenging, it stimulates the intellect and it allows you to expand your heart,” she says. “It’s full of opportunities and it’s full of challenges so it’s a great environment for me but it requires high levels of commitment and performance.”
Dorsey is one of the few people of color in a leadership position in an organization that aims to support sustainable communities. According to the Minority Environmental Leadership Development Initiative (MELDI), which is housed at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, 33 percent of environmental organizations and 22 percent of government agencies have no people of color on staff.
With the environmental movement being thought of for those who are white and affluent, the addition of diversity in organizations tries lure people of color, who are often the most affected by environmental impacts, to become involved.
But Ashwani Vasishth, urban studies and planning professor at Rampo University in New Jersey, says that leaders of color are not necessarily what communities of color need. In order for communities to get involved in environmental issues, the issues have to be visible and affect them directly in order for them to challenge authority, he says.
“They (people of color) do care as individuals (about environmental issues) but what they lack is an organized voice,” he says.
The inequality in certain areas does not have to do with race but rather with class although this is not as visible in LA County because of the influx of immigrants who arrive looking for inexpensive areas to settle in where there tends to be more environmental hazards says Vasishth.
“Most poor people living in America are white,” he says. “They are the true minority in a community of minorities.”
But according to the 2000 census, whites had the lowest poverty rates in the country in 1999 with 8.1 percent as compared to Asians with 12.6 percent, African Americans with 24.9 percent and Hispanics with 22.6 percent.
Dorsey agrees it is a class issue but says that “if you look at class within the context of race often times you’ll find that there are disproportionately larger numbers of people in certain areas that fall into that category. So it definitely is a class issue within a racist environment.”
One of the issues people of color deal with is the lack of healthy food in their neighborhoods, says Dorsey.
Reina Mejia, 40, from Echo Park, who migrated to the United States ten years ago from El Salvador, says that she knew about organic produce before she became involved with Equitable Roots.
“I never bought any organic produce before because the stores where far away and the prices are high,” she says.
Not only is Mejia now able to afford organic produce for her family but she has also become involved with the organization by becoming the program coordinator for her neighborhood. Her involvement had nothing to do with the race of the leadership team she says
“Since moving to the U.S. we’ve learned to get along with different races,” she says. “That is not a problem for my family.”
As for Dorsey, her experience as a single parent helps her relate to the people she serves because she too has been faced with the dilemma of having to put food on the table and deciding whether running to the nearest fast food restaurant to buy food for a buck or pay more for fresh produce is the best decision her family.
“Diversity is huge,” she says. “Is it required? No. Is it valuable in terms of really building ownership because there is somebody that looks like you and speaks your language – absolutely,” she says.