Antoinette Gomez is an environmental consultant working with Sustainable South Bronx, a grassroots environmental justice organization. She is also a fellow in the Environmental Leadership Program.
Monday, 10 Feb 2003
My day begins in my home office (one benefit of being a consultant) with follow-up calls on two projects. In January I began working on an ecological restoration curricula for Sustainable South Bronx, a grassroots environmental justice organization housed in the Hunt’s Point community.
The South Bronx has historically been associated with urban blight. While conditions are improving, the area is still plagued by environmental racism. Parts of the community were destroyed to make way for highways, and hazardous industries are common in the neighborhood’s commercial/industrial zone. There are lots of waste transfer stations, heavy truck traffic, a plethora of locally unwanted land uses, and high rates of asthma. The South Bronx is also seriously lacking in parks and other green spaces. Sustainable South Bronx works with the community to ensure that the physical environment and local economy are improved but not at the cost of human health or a safe environment.
One of Sustainable South Bronx’s initiatives is the Bronx River Restoration Workforce Development Project, an apprentice program that trains young people on river and estuary restoration, while also helping them to develop life skills and job readiness. The five-month program, to take place along the Bronx River, will create sustainable environmental jobs for community residents. My role is to design curricula on ecological restoration, environmental justice, and life skills for the program participants. Today I’m meeting with Annette Williams, the project’s coordinator, to discuss the training schedule and trainers. By the end of this month, I’ll complete the curricula and develop the training protocol with Hugh Hogan of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
This afternoon I’ll be sending out public relations information about an upcoming conference being put on by the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). The symposium brings together professionals in agriculture, natural resources, and environmental sciences with middle- and high-school students interested in pursuing careers in these areas. Last year I coordinated this event in Portland, Ore., for more than 200 youth. This year the conference will be held in Atlanta in March and we are planning for 400 youth. MANRRS aims to encourage and support students and professionals of color working in forestry, agriculture, fisheries, environmental law, engineering, education, wildlife, veterinary medicine, and other related career fields. I have been a member since I received my B.S. from Penn State in 1995 and I serve on the conference planning team.
My day will end with revising my schedule and following up on potential contract work that two former Environmental Leadership Program fellows have passed along to me.
Tuesday, 11 Feb 2003
Yesterday, I worked until 7:30 p.m., then caught the subway and read all the way home. Today, I will contact potential trainers for the Bronx River Restoration Workforce Development Project, obtain their resumes and hourly rates, and schedule times to observe them in action. The afternoon will consist of finishing the second month of the curricula for the project by developing lesson plans and outline materials. After gathering information from the project partners at our meeting last week, I was able to begin to script the actual lesson plans on plant taxonomy, stream-bank stabilization, and urban forestry.
Yesterday, I got a call about consulting with El Puente, a community-based environmental justice organization in Brooklyn. Today, I began preparing for a meeting with El Puente with Jayson Corburn, a senior fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program, to explore working with the group on an environmental health project. Further conversation with Jayson allowed me to begin pulling together information on asthma and air quality monitoring for a meeting on Wednesday. The exciting part of the project is writing an environmental justice curricula with an emphasis on asthma. In addition, this will allow me to connect my work in the South Bronx with the work of this Brooklyn organization.
Wednesday, 12 Feb 2003
Help! My computer crashed three days ago, so getting my work done (and getting this journal written) has been challenging. However, the technician is working on it, and it should be fixed by this afternoon.
Today, I left home at 10 a.m. to head to Sustainable South Bronx and begin my day. While on the three buses I take to get there, I called three or four people about the training schedule for the Bronx River Restoration Workforce Development Project, including Glenn Johnson of the Clark Atlanta University Environmental Justice Resource Center and David Kaplan, an ecologist at Natural Resources Group (a division of the New York City Parks Department). This latter call makes my day 100 percent easier — David gives me field training days in April and May for lessons on salt marsh restoration, nursery work, bioengineering, and planting native species (oak, willows, verbena, and dogwood). I’m smiling as I run to catch the third bus, which deposits me in front of the small storefront of Sustainable South Bronx.
Today, my schedule is very challenging. I’ll be here until 2:30 p.m., working vigorously on the curricula for April and May, as well as following up on a series of emails and notes from meetings held over the last couple of days. My objective is for the trainees in the program to have earned four different certificates by the time they graduate in August: the GED, CPR/First Aid, Pruner Training, Haz Whopper, and Occupational Safety and Health Administration training. These last three all have to be confirmed and added to the schedule today. The life-skills and job-readiness components of the curricula are being engineered by one of my colleagues, leaving ecological restoration, environmental science, and environmental justice work in my hands. After I finish all of that, I have to catch the subway to El Puente in Brooklyn. (Jayson Corburn called me while I was on the #19 bus to say the meeting was on for today.)
At the end of the day, Amateur Night at the Apollo awaits me — and afterwards, a late night of working on my Environmental Leadership Program project. The Environmental Leadership Program is a group of 100 leaders who are working for the betterment of the environment. The fellows include artists, activists, academics, business folks, policy analysts, graduate students, and a host of other talented people. Two years ago, my friend Na’Taki Osborne, who works for the National Wildlife Federation, encouraged me to apply — and now here I am, a fellow.
For my ELP project this year, I am working on a newsletter and documentary on the Second People of Color Environmental Summit. Summit 2, as we affectionately call it, was held last October and brought together thousands of people. (See the Clark Atlanta University Environmental Justice website for more information.) Now that the summit’s over, I am interviewing activists from seven communities and documenting their work and the collaborations resulting from the summit. It’s tough balancing my regular work and my work on this project, but I will begin by calling a few fellows who attended the summit to get their reflections. I am hoping to have reflections from the fellows, people that I met, and activists and scholars who I have known for quite some time.
Tomorrow, I’ll research El Puente to get a better grasp of their project and what my role can be in helping the organization fulfill its goals. I can’t believe it will be Thursday — there is still a lot to do and the week is going by so fast!
Thursday, 13 Feb 2003
Today, I began work at 8 a.m. with reflections on yesterday’s meeting at El Puente, a community organization in Brooklyn. I went there yesterday to meet with the head teacher of the organization’s charter school to discuss how to use “the bucket brigade” for air-quality monitoring and testing with youth. El Puente has been active in asthma awareness with the local community for many years. My role as a consultant on this project is to help El Puente develop a curricula around environmental justice, air-quality monitoring, and activism.
The bucket brigade is a low-cost method of community air-sampling. It has been used in South Africa, San Francisco, North Carolina, as well as in other parts of the country and around the world. The easy-to-make buckets consist of an air valve and sample bag; the samples are then sent to a lab for analysis of air contaminants and chemicals. For me, the exciting part starts when the samples come back and the people who tested the air can decipher the data, communicate the results to the larger community, and use the data to spur activism.
Often when community members or organizations speak out about asthma, their voices are lost due to lack of empirical data. The bucket brigade has two benefits: It produces the data, and the U.S. EPA and state regulatory agencies are often quicker to listen to communities that have done their own homework. In addition, the bucket brigade provides a practical lesson in environmental science for adults and children. My hope is that the project will stimulate some of the young people involved to pursue a career in environmental health or a related field.
As for my work on the Sustainable South Bronx curricula — we have made headway booking some trainings for field work, nursery management, and stream-bank stabilization. Today, I will check on the life-skills sections of the curricula, which includes GED certification, First Aid, and pruner training. I also have a meeting with South Bronx Executive Director Majora Carter regarding some additional training she is scheduling for the group. And from 3:30 until 7:30 p.m., I’ll meet with the Bronx River Alliance Education group. As you can see, a long day awaits.
Friday, 14 Feb 2003
Yesterday, I was in a meeting until 6:30 p.m., only to get home and chat with a colleagues for an hour about the youth program of the National Society for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). Then I stayed up until 1 a.m. reviewing the materials for the first and second month of the Sustainable South Bronx training project. It was a long night!
Today is a light day considering how busy this week has been for me. There’s only one meeting on the agenda, but there is a lot of work still to do on the curricula for the Sustainable South Bronx program. During the first two months, stream-bank corridor information, stream-bank stabilization, and plant/forestry identification will be key components of the curricula. By the third month (June), project participants will begin working three days in the field and two days in the classroom on computer skills, life skills, and testing for their core competencies.
MANRRS work has continued today as well, with emailing the committee members regarding a conference call for next week, sending the executive office the schedule and budget for the youth programs, and following up with Clarence Johnson of Fort Valley State University on speakers.
This afternoon, I will need to gear my energy toward my Environmental Leadership Program project. My project includes a newsletter and a digital documentary from the Second People of Color Environmental Summit. The photos from the summit are being sorted so I can use the best of them. In addition, I must call Zenaida Mendez, who was the organizer of the summit, to request a list of addresses of those who attended. My objective is to send everyone who went to the summit a request for submissions to the newsletter. In addition, I am scheduled to interview a young woman from the South Bronx who was active with youth organizing for the summit.
like a travel nightmare; I’m in town for eight to 10 days of the month at most. Hence, I will need to work really hard in March to stay ahead of the game and begin transitioning from the ecological-restoration project with Sustainable South Bronx to the El Puente air-monitoring project. Still, I’m planning to leave the office by 6 p.m. for my special Valentine’s date.