Quest for Environmental Justice: How Arts Learning Can Help – by Carl Anthony, Co-director, Breakthrough CommunitiesPosted: June 27, 2012
Many years ago when I was a Professor at the University of California College of Natural Resources, teaching one of the first university based courses on environmental justice several of my students were interested in teaching about environmental issues in multi racial schools. In our class discussions one day, a young woman became emotionally upset as she was describing her work as a volunteer in an after school program at a middle school in Berkeley. She was teaching the young people about separating compost for the garden, and cans, bottles, newspapers in kitchen containers for curbside recycling. It turned out that one of a dozen young people in the after school program, was homeless. She was living with her family in a car. Her mother, father and brother carried most of their belongings with them in the car, and got rid of the trash in waste containersaround the city. My student was devastated that the child was homeless and was upset that she didn’t know how to talk about this in the after school group. She wanted to know whether homelessness was an environmental issue.
At the other end of the spectrum, I heard the story of a middle school kid from West Oakland, who got a scholarship to go to a fancy private school in Marin County. The students in his class took turns in hosting pajama parties at their large and wealthy homes. When it came to his turn to host the pajama party, this young man invited a half dozen of his classmates to spend the weekend with him in the housing project where he lived in West Oakland. The kids from Marin County loved being in the ‘hood. They didn’t want to go home.
These stories illustrate the challenges of educating kids in a time of environmental devastaion. growing inequality, media hype, and demographic change. What should the learning of students be when parents have lost their jobs? What should it be when a father or brother has been sent prison? Or has been deported? How do we help the next generation cope with the realities of life as they experience it? How can we support them in building emotional resilience, hunger for knowledge, skills and robust leadership that our society will need to create a better future for everyone? How can we support attitudes of self-respect, excitement about learning, hope for changing the world? It seems to me, the arts have an important role to play here. With their paintings and sculptures, photographs and video documentaries, music and dramas, the arts can help our young people make sense of their world, giving them the confidence to reinvent the future.
One of the most exciting movements in the world today, that is reinventing our future is, the environmental justice movement. It is a large movement that needs the nourishment and creativity of the arts, and the tools of science and technology in support of a purposeful and sustainable economy. The environmental justice movement is a large movement. It brings together the pursuit of healthy communities, the greening of our cities, the saving of energy, the creation of opportunities for everyone, the end of homelessness and hunger, social and racial justice and the quest to save the planet.
We look forward to the upcoming Summer Institute “Inventing Our Future” August 7-9, 2012, where I will join with Professor Manuel Pastor from the University of Southern California in presentations and discussion of these topics. I also look forward to joining in an afternoon workshop on “Building Healthy Healthy Communities” at the Summer Institute, led by Paloma Pavel, PhD, CoDirector of Breakthrough Communities, and Jill Ratner, President of the Rose Foundation.