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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Hiking: Not That Complicated

I have been hiking on easy to moderate trails for about twenty years now. I started hiking in the Atlanta area by myself until my mother and brother made me promise to stop going out alone. I’ve hiked in Malibu, California, Washington, D.C., and Upstate New York.

If you plan to stick to easy trails, well any trails, find a friend to go along with you. There are also organizations like the Sierra Club that do hiking outings. They even organize nature trips for youth. I get email updates from Keeping it Wild, a multicultural environmental non-profit for outings and an alternative to the larger mainstream organizations. You get to hike in a group and meet new people! I’ve gone on several hikes including Sweetwater Creek and Cascade Park in the Atlanta Metro area.

To hike on easy trails all you will need are:

  • Sturdy comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes/boots
  • A knapsack
  • Water
  • Nutritious snacks
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug Repellent
  • Cell Phone

Also consider bringing (optional):

  • A Camera – for the memories
  • Binoculars – closeups on birds, animals and plants
  • Hiking pole – more for moderate to difficult hikes
  • Rain resistant jacket or poncho – a sudden storm can catch you unawares
  • A little first aid kit – if someone suffers a minor injury
  • A whistle – if you get lost
  • Toilet paper – sometimes you find empty rolls in park bathrooms!

For cold days consider: a cap, gloves, and wool socks. I’m looking to purchasing some of this items in material that wicks perspiration.

I like REI when shopping for some items. The staff is kind to someone like me who often walks in with newbie duh questions!

Please do stretch before and after hiking to avoid and diminish injuries to the muscles.

ENJOY YOUR FIRST/NEXT HIKE!