Lunch with Sierra Club’s Rita J. Harris in Memphis

What a great afternoon. I spent time with Rita J. Harris, the Regional Representative and Environmental Justice Organizer with the Sierra Club. We went to Boscos Restaurant & Brewing Company and her office, both in Memphis.

The Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships is part of the Sierra Club. Over our meals of salad, shrimp, and artichokes, Rita shared about her work at the Sierra Club.

Dotted all over Memphis are industrial companies polluting the environment and people. As a result, residents, particularly the impoverished, are exposed to air and water pollution. Carcinogens in pollution have long been shown to cause cancer, miscarriages among women, and deformities in newborns.  In addition, the many waterways including the Loosahatchie River and McKellar Lake are sources for catching fish, fish often poisoned by chemical pollutants like PCB’s and mercury. When people eat fish that looks seemingly healthy, they are ingesting these poisons.

Rita and Dianne Outside Boscos

Rita is passionate about environmental justice, fighting to protect marginalized people and the fragile environment. She works with citizens in monitoring air pollution levels, seeking to pass laws to regulate environmental inequities, and checking that the groundwater piped into homes is safe.

In the short history of environmental justice in the United States, we have environmental heroes including Benjamin Chavis and Robert Bullard who have served in the community striving to eliminate environmental racism. I count Rita among them.

She responded saying, “I know there are many others, and the fight for environmental justice has been brief if you compare the time it has existed with the long history of the Sierra Club, or other efforts that are over 100 years old. The EJ movement began back in the mid-1980s, but there are many EJ activists, community fighters, and I probably fall short in their shadows.”

Photo by Dianne Glave

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Shades of Nature: Environmental Fiction, A Call for Blog Carnival Submissions

DEADLINE EXTENDED UNTIL AUGUST 30, 2010. PLEASE CONTACT ME WITH ANY QUESTIONS AT DIANNEGLAVEROOTEDINTHEEARTH@CLEAR.NET

I love fiction, and some of my blogs at Rooted in the Earth reflects my interest.

Please submit your blog of environmental fiction–prose or poetry–to the second Rooted in the Earth Blog Carnival titled Shades of Nature: Environmental Fiction. I am flexible since I will even include reviews/essays;/overviews of environmental fiction. C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia comes to mind when I think of environmental fiction. Another example is W. E. B. Du Bois’ The Quest of the Silver Fleece. Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry edited by Camille Dungy is another option to consider when looking to some models for environmental fiction.

Submissions outside the scope of environmental fiction will not be considered. Perspectives from diversity including gender and ethnicity, along with more general submissions are welcomed.

If you do not have a blog, I will work with you on posting your environmental fiction if accepted.

Submit your blog here. The deadline is MONDAY, AUGUST 30, 2010. POSTING OF THE BLOG CARNIVAL WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE END OF AUGUST.

I look forward to your submissions.

Children’s Nature Institute: A Walk, A Moment, and a Little Girl

Have you ever laid in your bed in the early morning between the twilight of dreams and reality? Mentally I crawled out of my sleep remembering the Children’s Nature Institute (CNI).

Many years ago when I lived in Los Angeles, I volunteered with CNI. After the I passed the requisite child abuse and criminal checks and was trained, I graduated to taking 3 and 4 year olds on short hikes, ok we walked really short distances. They were too little to go very far.

I carried a bag full of kid nature stuff to keep them busy on our walk in Topanga State Park. I showed them the poison ivy first–leaves of three stay way from me! I also asked them to leave nature behind before they left the park: flowers, twigs, rocks, and such. We walked a bit and then I pulled out my hand and finger puppets. A bit further, I asked them to stop to listen to a bird. More puppets. We came close to a creek and we stood to look and listen. I handed out stickers of animals to the children. Throughout the walk parents stood on the edges and watched.

One little girl stood out during the walk. She stayed very close to me asking questions. At one point she started talking about her mother who it seemed was away on business. Her father stood close by with a worried wearied look on his face.

I ended those walks at a large boulder. We all–the children and I–clamored on top of the rock so I could read the book Antz to them. The little girl sat next to me, leaning on me as I read. When I finished I asked the children to listen and to look at everything around them and to tell me in a few minutes what they saw.

The girl told me how much she missed her mother. And that her mother would be back tomorrow. I said I know your mother misses you and she will be so happy to see you tomorrow. The girl nodded her little head saying yes and said she would be glad to see her mother. The father looked on grateful, eased about a conversation that relieved the tension he must have been handling in the short absence of the mother.

I turned to the children and asked them what they saw. Little voices shouted out leaves, rocks, twigs, birds, squirrels, and more. We jumped down from the boulder and headed back to our cars, the return route a bit swifter.

Volunteering for CNI was one of the highlights of living in Los Angeles. If there are similar programs near you, check them out. There is nothing more gratifying than working with children.

Siren Dinah Washington Sings “This Bitter Earth”

Oh, the glorious sounds of Dinah Washington. I sat upright one afternoon when I heard the words and notes of “This Bitter Earth.”

Ms. Washington was born in 1924 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She left behind a powerful and enduring legacy of her torch songs when she died in 1963 of a drug overdose. Her albums spanned from 1950 to 1967. Listen to the full range of her artistry with her 1999 box set titled “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”.

Her haunting torch song  “This Bitter Earth” (1960) was on the movie soundtrack of Killer Sheep, a film of African Americans set in Watts in Los Angeles during the 1970s. The song hit #1 on the R&B chart for one week and was #24 on the pop chart in 1960.

Listen to Ms. Washington sing:

The lyrics to “This Bitter Earth” are as beautiful as the melody:

This bitter earth
What fruit it bears
What good is love
That no one shares
And if my life is like the dust
That hides the glow of a rose
What good am I
Heaven only knows

This bitter earth
Can it be so cold
Today you’re young
Too soon your old
But while a voice
Within me cries
I’m sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth
May not be so bitter after all

Ms. Washington, you are remembered in this time when environmentalism is part of the our common parlance. This bitter earth . . .

VH1’s “You’re Cut Off” Goes to the Woods

Ahh no, I’m not about to share about Ochocinco’s dating escapes modeled on football strategy on VH1.

On a Sunday afternoon, I got caught in the reality TV vortex watching You’re Cut Off. Several spoiled women are cut off financially and forced to endure various tests in different episodes. They have to do chores, look for work, and live relatively peaceably with one another. In the episode titled “Fun on a Budget,” the women go out into the woods in the second half of episode 6.

I think I counted the use of the “b” word at least 20 times. It’s about nature but also about how badly women can treat one another ramped up by film cameras on reality TV. A shame.

Camping and campers will never be the same. I also feel sorry for nature in the episode. George Washington Carver is rolling over in his grave. So is Rachel Carsons and Teddy Roosevelt.

Wonderful Fresh Food! The New Farmers Market in South Memphis

Inaugural South Memphis Farmers Market

The South Memphis Farmers Market is selling  fresh local produce to the South Memphis community. This is good news since the area is a food desert, meaning access to fresh food is not always possible. The farmers market is filling the void through the hard work of many people in the community who pushed for the passage of the South Memphis Revitalization Action Plan  (SoMe RAP). As a result, the predominantly African American community in South Memphis can benefit from fresh fruits and vegetables. Reverend Kenneth S. Robinson, pastor of St. Andrew AME Church and local politicians were on hand to mark the occasion.

Read more at the Memphis Commercial Appeal in Farmers Will Sell at Market in South Memphis. Watch on Eye Witness News: South Memphis Farmers Market Gets Set To Open. The Works has been instrumental, among many other local organizations in making the market happen. Read what The Works had to say in South Memphis Farmers Market Opens Tomorrow. Check out the White House, that would be in Washington, D.C. post titled Just Opened: The South Memphis Farmers Market.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Faith Temple COGIC in Memphis: Promoting Health

Bophelo means life in South Africa!

Faith Temple COGIC in Memphis, Tennessee promotes bophelo, holistic healing drawing on spirituality and healthcare. On Sunday, July 11, 2010, the church offered a health-screening to members and visitors.

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Anyone could get their blood sugar or blood pressure tested.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Predators: Survival of the Fittest in a Busted Paradise?

SPOILER ALERT

To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.    ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If you’ve been on this planet long enough you’ve seen Predator, Predator 2, and Aliens vs. Predators (AVPR). The latest installment is Predators.

 

Beyond the earlier films, Predators is a product of many influences and reflects history. It is  an homage to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story of humans hunting humans. I think of slaveholders hunting the enslaved in the forests and swamps of the American South up to the mid-19th century. Ultimately, the film is about “survival of the fittest,” a term used to describe one of Charles Darwin’s scientific theories.

The story or plot. A multicultural group is dropped by parachute into what looks like the Amazon. Paradise? I think not. Battle-ready mercenary types–all except for a doctor who is the odd one out–do not know their where-a-bouts.

Soon they learn two things: that this aint planet earth and they are being hunted. How do they know it isn’t planet earth? First, a leaf dropped in water spins as if the gravitational pull is out of wack. Second, the sun doesn’t move. Perhaps in both these instances the rock they are on is no longer spinning on its axis? And third,  they walk to edge of a ravine looking up to see three planets above them with one so close it looks like it could be touched. Perhaps the ravine is the point where the planet broke apart. Are they on a moon? An asteroid? A planet? A chunk of a shattered planet? No matter. They are trapped.

The hunted realize they are being hunted in a jungle of a game preserve. They are the animals. One by one, they get picked off. The first to go are a Latino and African American–both men. The screenwriters and director stuck to the old horror/science fiction trope of killing off the men of color first. A second African American man (Lawrence Fishburne is hilarious) isn’t far behind when he is blasted to pieces by the predators, the hunters.

Throughout the film, one character attempts the philosophical concluding that hunting has alway been primal to humans, what it means to be human. So are those hunted in the movies just as soul-less as the alien predators? Is this a morality tale concerning predation by people of other creatures and the planet earth in 2010? Maybe the filmmakers aren’t that smart. The predators are getting to know the humans.

Homo sapiens throughout time have been aggressive.  Much of the first activity of humans in pre-history was hunting and gathering as means of survival. Farms, villages, towns, and cities came much later. A sly visual reference to this pre-history are the stegasaurus-hunting dogs encountered by the game/humans. Since pre-historic times, in modern times, humans have become the mightiest hunters on the planet.

Sadly, for the people in the movie the tables have been cruelly turned, and they are hunted. Royce, the central character, played by ripped Adrien Brody is the chorus of this Greek tragedy, the narrator of the human/alien murder and mayhem. As the plot progresses, he muses out loud, “We’re being hunted,” “we are the game,” “we are being flushed out and tested.” Duh.

Mud was a critical plot device in the the first Predator, and water and dirt sources of life, show up again in Predators. It will save the humans. If you saw the first movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, then you know what I’m talking about. Mud once again become emblematic or symbolic of life, as one hunter is triumphant over another. Go see the movie to learn the meaning of the mud, and how Royce figures out the Predators’ game.

 

In the end, two survive, a man and a woman. We are left with the image of Adam (Brody) and Eve (Alice Braga), two busted people left to muck it out in  busted jungle paradise. Or have they already been kicked out of paradise, and this alien rock are the wages of sin? Looks like hell to me.

At this point Adam and Eve need to be on a first name basis because all they have are each other:

 

Adam says, “I’m Royce.”

Eve responds: “Nice to meet to meet you, Royce. I’m Isabella.”

He closes with: “Let’s find a way off this *&^*^%* planet.”

Ah, courtship and romance.

With that said, I see a Predators 2 in the works with more stegosaurus-hunter dogs–agains shades of runaway slaves trapped in a tree by a hound–bounding through the jungle, along with a star-studded array of aliens skulking about.  Nimrod Antal–one can only hopes he directs again–bring it.

Memphis Graffiti: Outdoor Urban Art

While in East Memphis, a more affluent retail and commercial part of the city, I look up and saw graffiti on a wall. Poplar Avenue is the main drag with upper-middle class suburban housing off either side of Poplar. The graffiti was on a street just off Poplar on the wall of a car wash. It was clear that the owners of the establishment left the art alone rather than paint over it. The only changes were when other taggers layered their work on top of existing graffiti. 

Graffiti goes back to ancient times unearthed in archeological digs of ancient Egypt and Rome. Today, the lettering and markings are illegal in cities across the US. 

Dianne, Linden Blvd, St. Albans, NY

I grew up in Queens, New York where graffiti is more common than uncommon; as a result I was drawn in by my memories of my old home and the outdoor urban art before me in Memphis. Some consider it art; others do not including the police. Generally, graffiti is a social statement or a tag by a gang member marking territory. 

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My interpretation of the graffiti in East Memphis? Taking a leap, since I am not part of graffiti culture, it was probably youth who sprayed the wall. The artists could be white, black, latino, or Asian. It’s difficult to tell although graffiti is typically in poor urban neighborhoods and often by blacks and Latinos. The words counter what surrounds it: underground culture versus the established middle-class. So the existence of the graffiti in East Memphis is a counter-cultural statement, a rejectionof middle class norms and values.

Photos by Dianne Glave

Getting to Know the Tennessee Clean Water Network

Renée and Sandra at Huey's // Photo by Dianne Glave

Last week Thursday on July the 1st, I had dinner with two people who are committed to environmentalism at the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN): Renée Victoria Hoyos, the executive director and Sandra Upchurch, a board member. The organization started in 1998 and Renee has been the director since 2003. The TCWN is a non-profit organization “working on behalf of the environment, clean water and public health.” (http://www.tcwn.org/about)  

Renée left Knoxville that same day, stopping in Fredonia, the latter in western Tennessee, before meeting Sandra and me for dinner. Some community members in Fredonia contacted TCWN in 2005 for help: “the TVA Megasite Certification program had just certified 3800 acres of prime farmland for the I-40 Advantage facility.” (The Current: Newsletter of the TCWN, vol. 11, issue 1, Winter 2010, 3) The controversy over land use clearly inpacts Fredonia, a community in which many of the members  are descendents of enslaved people; yet the community was and still has not been consulted.

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When Renee arrived in Memphis, the three of us shared a meal at Huey’s in midtown. The restaurant is known for their hamburgers. The Hearth Healthy Huey Burger, one of four healthy options on the menu, was great! The conversation about the environmental justice in Tennessee was also enlightening. 

Both Renee and Sandra serve impoverished people who lack legal representation when it comes to the environment.  Personally, I am excited about the much-needed work Renée, Sandra, the staff, and board members are doing in Tennessee to protect the water and the people who base their very existence and life on the rivers, creeks,and lakes in the state.

I look forward to learning more in the near future. 

Unless Otherwise Noted, Images Courtesy of