Panelist Crystal Cavalier-Keck participates in a ceremonial water walk alongside her husband, Jason Crazy Bear Keck. Photo by Miles Green and Sarah Hazelgrove.
“Voices from the Frontline speaks loudly to the human factor of climate change.”
– Kirsten Minor, CleanAIRE NC Health Manager
North Carolina’s premier climate health conference, NC BREATHE, takes place on April 6 at the 658 Center in Charlotte. The hybrid event, sponsored by Atrium Health and the US EPA Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program, brings together a diverse group of North Carolina influencers, policymakers, and community members who care about the earth, the air, and the health of North Carolina and its people. This year’s theme is “Climate Justice: Our Path to Healthier Communities.”
One of the most popular panels at NC BREATHE, “Voices from the Frontline,” focuses on how community members and groups can address the impact of climate change in their communities and beyond. “‘Voices from the Frontline’ speaks loudly to the human factor of climate change,” said Kirsten Minor, health manager at CleanAIRE NC and coordinator of the conference. “We call on community members who represent areas of North Carolina that are historically and presently disproportionately impacted by various sources of pollution, whether that’s air, water, or the constant daily battle to try to rectify those issues.”
It’s not easy to spearhead change in local communities, but some people make it happen. Omega Wilson and his wife, Brenda Wilson, have been fighting for environmental justice in Alamance County since 1994, when they founded the West End Revitalization Association (WERA). Their decades-long climate justice marathon has persevered through a number of legal battles targeting access to the most basic of needs for underserved communities. Today, WERA is focused on the end point of medical waste. Usually dumped or incinerated near communities of color, the off-gassing of plastics contaminates the air and water in these areas, and the amount of waste has seen rampant growth, specifically during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn how the Wilsons are fighting back so you can fight back, too.
Fracking is another overlooked source of environmental stress on North Carolinians, and its strongest opponent may be Crystal Cavalier-Keck, Ph.D. Not only is she policy director for Toxic-Free NC, Cavalier-Keck is a councilwoman for the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation. As a member and representative of her tribe, she has recently combatted the laying of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) Southgate, a project whose impact upon the indigenous communities along its route from Virginia to North Carolina would be manifold: the added air and water pollution to a community already strained by the effects of two gas compressor stations is just a start.
“Most of these pipelines are going through marginalized communities,” Cavalier-Keck told the Haw River Assembly. “It’s just like a cycle of trauma that is affecting these people. They grow up with this cycle and it’s really hard to break unless someone is actually going in there and working with the community, instilling community values, trying to change things.”
The “Voices from the Frontline” panel offers tools and inspiration that can help NC BREATHE attendees take their own advocacy to the next level.
“No one should have to live in an area where their health is threatened because of environmental factors,” Minor said. “These panelists are out to prove that the state of the environment is not beyond our control — nor are the systems which drive the practices actively harming our communities.”
Join forces with fellow environmental justice advocates at NC BREATHE 2023.