What is the moment that you decided to work towards climate justice?
Issues of environmental and racial justice have always felt very tangible to me growing up in an industrial Midwest city and seeing the impacts of corporate greed on our air and water quality. My hometown was nicknamed “The Mistake on the Lake” (Cleveland) because the Cuyahoga River lit on fire in the 70s from being so polluted. Living in a lakeside community that didn’t truly have access to clean water to play in in many areas was sadly just a way of life for me, and something I barely questioned, until I had a chance to move away and see more of the country and world, and then move back as a mother.
When my son was two years old, we took a trip to Florida where every day he would wake up before me, put on his swim trunks, grab his sand bucket by the hotel door, and eagerly await to spend another euphoric day under the sky and next to the ocean. The memory of that trip to the ocean outlasted most memories his young mind was able to retain at such a young age, and the word “cubete” (bucket in Spanish) stuck in his vocabulary long after other words less relevant to his daily life had faded.
One day at home in Cleveland sometime after that trip, I was lamenting that Cleveland did not have any beaches nearby I could take my son. “But we do!,” my father reminded me. Tentatively, I set out for the nearest beach on my google map, which is located in one of the most racially and economically segregated parts of our city.
Upon arriving, my son eagerly grabbed his “cubete,” and barely containing his excitement started running towards the water. A park personell walked sharply in our direction and informed us that pollution levels were so high that children could not even play on the sand near the water since it had rained the day before. My son’s face fell, his eyes full of confusion. He could see the water, he’d been looking forward to this for days, but he couldn’t go in? We walked along the edge of the beach, him staring longingly at the water and sand for a bit before leaving disappointed. Another little kid was playing in the sand with his bucket and shovel despite the warnings. How I wished we could join them, all of us, without repercussions for the health of our children.
In time after leaving that beach, my anger at the injustice highlighted that day grew and grew. My child, and other chidren, were being robbed of the timeless activity of a child. To go to a body of water near their home and sit out under the sky, communing with nature, playing in the sand and water, with the knowledge that they would be safe and healthy.
This experience applied to the world at large highlighted for me deeply unjust inequalities, and a frighteningly too real look at the impacts of climate change at large. I want all children to grow up in a world where their water is safe to drink and play in, their air is clean and breathable, and parents don’t have to make the choice between keeping their children inside so that they can be healthy and safe, or allowing them to go outside under a big sky, and be one with nature.
What’s your favorite place to be?
My favorite place to be is surrounded by nature in summer somewhere, especially in the deciduous forests of the Midwest and northeast.
When you were a kid what was your favorite activity?
I loved swimming as a kid. I would survive the summers by spending all day every day at the pool.