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CBC session reveals how national parks can uplift Black communities

CBC-SESSIONCBC session reveals how national parks can uplift Black communities

Members of the Diverse Environmental Leaders Speakers Bureau shown here at Grand Canyon National Park will lead the CBC Session.

By Audrey Peterman

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Annual Legislative Conference in Washington DC is the principal event that draws Black legislators, thought leaders and concerned citizens to explore policies from a Black perspective. Arguably, if an issue does not make it to the CBC agenda, it is low on the priority list for African Americans.

So it is almost magical that this year, when the violent excesses of our racist society dominates our attention, the most beautiful, prized and exclusive assets of America will also be onstage at the conference. In front of potentially 9,000 attendees, the session “Public Lands, Environment & Conservation: Peril & Opportunity for African Americans” will demonstrate how our national parks, forests and other publicly owned lands can be used to improve the economy and aesthetics in our communities; reduce the numbers of people channeled into the prison system; buffer us against climate change and help us restore health and viability.

Sponsored by Congressman Alcee Hastings, the session  takes place Wednesday, Sept. 16, noon – 2 p.m. Co-sponsors Rep. Corrine Brown, (Fla.) Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) and CBC Chair the Hon. G. K. Butterworth, (N.C.,) represent districts on or near the Atlantic Ocean that are most vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, in 2015 the US Army Corp of Engineers was found guilty by the courts of “gross negligence” for their failure to adequately design, build and maintain the levees that burst, swamping New Orleans. While the Corps is the chief agency responsible for managing flood control projects in our country, it is immune from being sued by citizens that may be harmed by its decisions. So the only viable option to protect our communities from similar environmental disasters as a result of climate change is to get involved ahead of time.

Speakers at the CBC session include Majora Carter, the MacArthur Genius Award winner who turned a $10,000 grant from the USDA Forest into a three million dollar investment in the revitalization of her Hunts Point, Bronx neighbor-hood; Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah Geechee Nation, who travels the world advocating for her culture and is innovating adaptations to climate change that’s already affecting the Sea Islands; author Jarid Manos, founder of Great Plains Restoration Council in Fort Worth, Tex. whose programs divert people from prison into environmental work; Dorien Blythers, expert in community organizing and the green economy; Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environ-mental & Climate Justice Program and Aaron Mair, newly elected president of the Board of the Sierra Club with a 30-year history of environmental advocacy.

The CBC has the best record in Congress of voting for the environment, with some members rated higher than 90 percent by the League of Conservation Voters. This session will illustrate the high level of environmental interest and expertise among their constituents, and encourage them to see the environmental component in health, justice, economy, education, safety and every other issue.

Just days after the session, the Land and Water Conservation Fund is set to expire Sept. 30. The fund was started 50 years ago by the same Congress that passed the Voting Rights Act. It collects a small percentage of the revenue from drilling and exploitation of our shared natural resources to buy land for the public’s recreational use. Not only have subsequent Congresses broken the public trust and failed to provide the dollars, but the Fund will be-come defunct Sept. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

If Congress was loth to appropriate the funds under the law, it will be near impossible to get funding for urban parks and amenities without it. Let us know at if your organization is willing to sign on to the letter we’re sending to the CBC asking them to support reauthorization of the Fund. Please plan to join us at the CBC Conference next month.

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