By Tony McCray
The Kellogg Foundation has funded a project that will involve the Wedgewood Community and Unity in the Family Ministry, in Pensacola and Escambia County, as the targets for technical assistance resources through Black Colleges and Universities. The goal of the assistance is to improve the environmental and quality of life issues in the area surrounded by construction and debris pits. On August 12th, Unity in the Family will officially introduce details of its formal agreement with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Inc. to provide technical assistance to Wedgewood for researching the connection between the construction and debris pits and the health issues in the community. The location, time, and details of the official meeting in Wedgewood on August 12th will be announced as soon as possible, said Dr. Calvin Avant, President/Pastor of Unity in the Family Ministry.
Unity in the Family Ministry is one of five community-based organizations to participate in the HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equity Consortium to implement the “Communiversity” initiative in Wedgewood. The goal of the Consortium is to improve the lives of children and families in the Gulf Coast Region. The W. K. Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant of $3.3 million for the Consortium over the next 5 years. Monique Harden, the Community Engagement Program Manager at the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Inc. stated, “We are excited to take the collaborative work by Unity in the Family Ministry and partner HBCUs to a new level that brings more resources and support to Wedgewood, Olive Heights and Rolling Hills.”
Dr. Beverly Wright, the Founder and Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Inc. said in an interview with the Gulf Coast Voice, “I have been working with Dr. Bullard of Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas for 30 years to bring this level on research and technical assistance to the Gulf Coast underserved communities and the Kellogg Foundation responded to our request for funding.” Dr. Wright is not new to the Pensacola and Escambia County area. She has previously been in Escambia County participating in the removal of the residents from Escambia Arms public housing complex, and the adjacent residential neighborhood because of the environmental contamination of the North Palafox Escambia Wood Superfund Site.
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. Following that presentation, Wright took a tour of the Wedgewood Community to view the numerous landfills in the area, and decided after that visit to invite Unity in the Family to submit a proposal to operate the environmental jobs training program.
The Communiversity Model emphasizes a collaborative management and partnership between universities and communities. The partnership promotes joint understanding and mutual respect between community residents and professors. In the past, collaborative problem-solving attempts that included community residents and academicians were one-sided in terms of who controlled the dynamics of the interaction between the two, who was perceived as knowledgeable, and who was benefited.
The essence of this approach is an acknowledgment that for effective research and policymaking, valuable community life experiences regarding environmental insult must be integrated with the theoretical knowledge of academic educators and researchers. Either group alone is less able to accomplish the goal of achieving environmental equity, but the coming together of the two in a non-threatening forum can encourage significant strides toward solutions. The Gulf Coast Voice will continue to report on the implementation of this initiative in Wedgewood.
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