Environmentalist Majora Carter urges local action

The green activist recounts a career of making change in her South Bronx neighborhood.

Majora Carter, acclaimed environmentalist and green activist, challenged her audience Tuesday night at Hendricks Chapel to promote a spirit of environmental equality in their communities. Carter spoke to a crowd of Syracuse University students, faculty and community members that filled the chapel’s lower level for the first speaker in the University Lectures series.

Using a PowerPoint with slides and photos, Carter shared her personal journey of greening the ghetto, which she now calls home. Growing up in the South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point, her earliest memories were filled with watching buildings burn down because landlords would rather torch their property and collect insurance than try to sell their buildings. She shared how she used to watch the news as her mom held her tight, in fear that she too would become a statistic.

Carter remembers thinking  “I’m outta here. I’m a smart kid. I’m going to college and I’m never ever coming back.” And she planned on doing just that when she left her neighborhood to study at Wesleyan University. Years later, Carter returned to New York to study creative writing at New York University and moved back in with her parents in Hunts Point. This time, Carter could no longer ignore the conditions of her neighborhood, which had become an environmental wasteland.

“You don’t ever have to move out of the neighborhood you live in, in order to live in a better one."
- Majora Carter

“I was not trying to be an environmentalist,” Carter said. She merely wanted to know why her community was being disproportionately burdened with waste and other environmental hazards. Carter did research and discovered that it was a political decision. The people who made the decisions knew that those who suffered, mainly the poor and minority populations, wouldn’t fight back. But even Carter didn’t know where to begin until her dog led her to the South Bronx waterfront on an early morning jog.

Discovering the waterfront propelled Carter to act. She applied for a seed grant through the United States Department of Agriculture and began to build Hunts Point’s first waterfront park. Through her work, which now creates training and green jobs for South Bronx citizens, people in her neighborhood began to realize that they could be part of something bigger.

“You don’t ever have to move out of the neighborhood you live in, in order to live in a better one,” Carter said.

Annalena Davis, Syracuse resident and alumna of the SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry, said she found Carter inspirational.

“Her life story, the background that she came from, and the things that she had witnessed as a child in her neighborhood,” Davis said. “And to go back and to be able to make such a huge difference is amazing.”

For Carter, understanding sustainability is about first realizing that it is not about some trees in a faraway mountain range.

“It’s about the job that you have, it’s about where your kids go to school, it’s about what you eat -- all of these things that create a kind of community that you call your life,” Carter urged passionately.

Carter also told audience members to take what she did in her neighborhood to their own communities. She emphasized that her ideas can be implemented across the nation, and that individuals can be responsible for creating their own local opportunities.

“That’s what’s so beautiful about the opportunity in developing a green economy, because it needs everyone to play a part.”

This is so inspirational!!! I

This is so inspirational!!! I am sure we can all do something about making where we live a better place.

And I am so proud of you girl...you are a writer. Your Father would be so proud!!!

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