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Environmental Justice focus of Ag’s and HHS’s MLK Week

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The 11th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Diversity Awareness Week, sponsored by Purdue University’s College of Agriculture and College of Health and Human Sciences, kicks off on Jan. 17 with a focus on environmental justice, offering several panels and presentations on combating the divide injustice creates in local communities. All events will be held virtually and require registration. 

The week will begin with a variety of local service opportunities on Jan. 16 through Boilers in Action, Food Finders Food Bank, the Hanna Community Center, LTHC and Grow Local Lafayette.  

Jacqueline Patterson, founder and executive director of the Chisolm Legacy Project, will start the week’s events as Tuesday, Jan. 18’s keynote speaker. She hopes to educate those who are unfamiliar with what environmental injustice looks like. 

“In real life, there are communities disproportionately exposed to toxins and pollution in general, while those communities are the least responsible for said pollution,” Patterson said. “Lack of access to green and wild spaces, or water and clean air, things that are products of our ecosystem, those are all practical examples of environmental injustices.” 

The week’s programs seek to educate participants on ways they can identify equality gaps, find ways to uplift those affected by environmental inequality and offer ways to get involved, all of which align with Patterson’s nonprofit. The Chisolm Legacy Project: A Resource Hub for Black Frontline Climate Justice Leadership aids activists and community leaders by providing the tools and resources needed to continue their work towards equality. 

“Recently we were in Sand Branch, Texas, where people do not have access to working, running water,” Patterson said. “Volunteers went door to door with holiday dinners and clip boards to talk with folks and assess their needs. There were a lot of conversations around things residents should know as taxpayers of Dallas County.” 

When it comes to working towards environmental justice, Patterson said there are ways everyone can get involved in their local communities. 

“What we did in Sand Branch didn’t take any special skills,” she said. “But if you have special skills, utilize them: help organize emergency management training, offer layout and design for community flyers, organize community clean ups. Students have really been great for us as well, providing research on things we need.” 

Getting people thinking about what environmental injustice looks like in their own communities can open the door to steps toward action. 

“A simple way to get involved, too, is by sparking a conversation about environmental justice, whether that’s at the dinner table or on Twitter,” Patterson said. “Helping one another understand what injustice looks like in their own communities, just to get people thinking about it, goes a long way.”  

Included in the week’s lineup of events are a Jan. 19 presentation by Ellen Wells, associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, on Environmental Justice and Public Health; a Jan. 20 faculty panel organized by Jeff Dukes, professor of forestry and natural resources and biological sciences, on Climate Justice Issues in the Midwest; and a Jan. 21 panel of local leaders discussing Community Partnerships working towards Environmental Justice. 

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