Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Strove for Both
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered primarily as a great civil rights leader, in the footsteps of Moses and Gandhi, and rightfully so.
But he was also an environmental leader far ahead of his time as he strove to raise awareness about urban environmental issues and public health concerns that affect communities of color more than their white counterparts. Dr. King was a pioneer in what has come to be called environmental justice. It seems that environmental hazards and degradation do not fall equally on rich and poor, white, red, yellow, brown and black. If you live in a poor neighborhood or a community that is made up largely African-American, Hispanic, or indigenous people, you are more likely to be at risk from air, water, and soil contamination. Hazardous sites or polluting industries are more likely to be located in these areas than in the tony suburbs. Google “Gross Pointe Landfill” or Beverly Hills Mining” and you’ll see what I mean.
Environmental justice principles are that all members of a society have equal rights to clean air, water, and soil, and to enjoy communities where they can raise their families in healthy, natural environments. It affirms that no one possesses the right to degrade and destroy the environment, whether governments, private industry, or individual citizens. Further, environmental justice guarantees equal access to relief from hazards that occur and genuine community participation in the decisions of government and industry that impact the community.
The 13th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy of Environmental and Social Justice Program took place at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History on January 17th and 18th. As part and parcel of his civil rights work, Dr. King strove to raise awareness about health and urban environmental issues that disproportionately affect minority and low-income communities. The celebration included music, dance, a youth talent show, storytelling, poetry slams and a grand finale drum circle. It also included a Community Open Mic, where members of the community could honor the words and legacy of MLK by sharing original poetry and rap, and by speaking their minds on environmental and social justice issues.
Dr. King’s final journey was to Memphis to improve the working conditions of the garbage collection workers thee—the vast majority of whom were African American—and improve the terrible working conditions and environmental health issues that they endured. It was t here he gave his famous “Mountaintop” speech, the night before he was assassinated.
Dr. King’s legacy includes a waste to resources theme—that human beings are living treasures to be loved, nurtured and respected, not wasted; that the impact of the waste we produce should not fall more heavily on the poor than the rest of us, and that what affects any of us directly, affects us all indirectly.
In honor of Dr. King and all the future generations he fought and died for, we leave his own words from Memphis as the best closing tribute to his legacy.
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