African Americans and Environmental Justice

African Americans and Environmental Justice

The day dawned bright and beautiful even though very warm for Indiana.  People gathered somewhat slowly and leisurely for this workshop sponsored by Franciscan Action Network (FAN). 

Sr. Jamie Phelps, an Adrian Michigan Dominican, was the keynote speaker.  She stressed the Hope for the Environment given to us by Pope Francis through the first encyclical that addresses the environment directly - "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.”  Sr. Jamie did emphasize that throughout the years, many popes often included statements on the topic of Care of Creation in their teachings.

She emphasized St. Francis of Assisi’s prominent role in praising and promoting God’s creation and that Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of his patron saint. Pope Francis guides us to universal and unconditional love for each other and for all of creation. Perhaps when we meet God in eternity, God may ask: “How did you love?  How did you love all of creation?”

In the afternoon, Aster Bekele, founder of Felege Hiywot Center (“Looking for Direction to Life”) spoke to those present about her work with the African American youth of Indianapolis. She began her work coming from a science perspective as that was her field but did not win the youth over. They were somewhat bored with the science emphasis on the environment. But all that was going to change. She told of a youth who was killed in the cross fire of a shooting in Indianapolis. The young man was well liked by everyone and the teens were devastated by the tragic death of a friend and neighbor. The next time the youth group met, she asked if they wanted to talk about it. The teens told her that no one ever asked that because they had come to accept shootings as a way of life in their neighborhoods. Talking with them moved them to create new life in the form of vegetable gardens; the produce grown is then shared with their neighbors in honor of their friend. 

Jill Leaness from the Climate Reality Project, an organization started by former Vice President Al Gore, led us in telling our stories of the environment.  She provided us with guidelines which helped each person develop a personal story explaining why they are compelled to act on Climate change. One woman shared about her daughter who was studying environmental justice in college. This mother felt that she needed to find out as much as she could about the environment.  She started with recycling and at this time has learned a lot more about Caring for Creation.  Another woman shared about living in a food desert which has spurred many to put in gardens so that they can have fresh produce to eat.  

During the day we were introduced to these organizations:

  • Franciscan Action Network
  • Climate Reality Project
  • Archdiocese of Indianapolis Creation Care Ministry
  • Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light

You can see photos of the day on FAN's Facebook Page. A special thanks to Father Kenneth Taylor, pastor of Holy Angels and St. Rita parishes in Indianapolis; Pearlette Springer, from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis Office of Intercultural Ministry – Coordinator of Black Catholic Ministry; Sister Marge Wissman, Sisters of St. Francis , Oldenburg; Jill Leaness and the Climate Reality Project; and Franciscan Action Network for sponsoring and creating the framework for the day.