By Tony McCray
The historic All Faith Community Church Annex at 7275 Rolling Hills Road was filled to its capacity on this past Saturday, August 12th from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm as The Kellogg Foundation funded HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium met with the historically African-American Wedgewood Community. The purpose of the meeting was to hear what the residents felt were priority needs that should be addressed regarding health and environmental justice. Residents, Pensacola Branch of the NAACP, candidates for public office, area non-profits, and curious supporters of the Wedgewood community made for a huge turnout.
Dr. Calvin Avant, CEO of Unity in the Family a local non-profit and environmental jobs training program, served as the moderator for the event. He introduced Dr. Beverly Wright, the Executive Director and Founder of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice Inc. of New Orleans, Dr. Robert Bullard, professor of urban planning and environmental science, at Texas Southern in Houston, in addition to the professors from Florida A&M, Tennessee State, and Texas Southern, of the Consortium leadership. Avant commented that he felt the meeting was a huge success. He stated, “It was an awesome turnout and the residents were seriously engaged in the process of listing community issues and the changes that they felt should come out of the focus of this project.”
Dr. Wright is not new to the Pensacola and Escambia County area. She briefed the audience on her past environmental justice work in Pensacola and around the world. She was previously involved in the environmental issues on North Palafox St. and the Escambia Wood Superfund Site, the removal of the residents from Escambia Arms public housing complex, and the adjacent Rosewood Terrace residential neighborhood. More recently, Dr. Wright spoke in favor of the Wedgewood Community’s request for a Moratorium on expansion of the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Landfill earlier in this year.
LaFanette Soles-Woods, a life-long resident of Wedgewood and the Secretary of the Wedgewood-Rolling Hills Homeowners Association stated that she thought the group left a positive reaction in the community. She stated, “We feel as though someone has heard our cry and responded to assist us in resolving the issues in the community”.
Ann Walker, the President of the Homeowners Association, asked questions of Dr. Wright during her presentation to obtain clarity on the extent of the research and resolution of the issues. Both Wright and Bullard made it clear how long that they have been seeking funding of this programmatic approach called “Communiversity” and that the initiative has a “Research to Action” operational imperative theme. Training will be offered to residents to assist them in conducting research themselves and becoming more involved in policy-making, to halt issues like the pits in Wedgewood that would be supported by Escambia County public policy.
In summary the HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium will be conducting the research to prepare an environmental health profile for Wedgewood, and developing a long-term plan for achieving the community’s health goals. There are three principles that must be followed by the consortium and those are: Community residents must be allowed to speak for themselves, that there is equal relationship between university professors and residents, and that the outcomes of the project are resident driven and community-involved.