S.B. Youth Seek Environmental Justice
By Dianne Anderson
Youth at Akoma Unity Center are learning about environmental injustice, policy reform and social action the hard knocks way – it’s what they see in their water.
Over the next year, they’ll learn all about water purity with the Peoples Collective for Environmental Justice (PC4EJ), the organization guiding the way toward cleaner water in Westside San Bernardino schools.
“We’re going to be testing water locally but also bringing it to local representatives, trying to figure out how to come up with a solution. It’s a big issue for the students. A lot of them have expressed that they are seeing roaches in their water, the water is very murky and nasty,” said Alicia Aguayo, spokesperson for the organization.
The group wants to address student concerns and raise awareness about what Westside youth will learn about water testing in their schools. The organization also works with professors at UCR, and dozens of students in the San Bernardino Unified School District.
Aguayo said that many Westside students are Black, attending Arroyo Valley High School and nearby middle and elementary schools. She is calling for more participation in the Black community to help push for important policy changes.
The water quality tests are partly educational to familiarize students with the testing process, but it’s also a policy-based project. The organization and students will be attempting to connect with the school board, and also the local water district to determine the best solution.
Other concerns for the organization include air pollution with a focus on railyard and truck pollution impact of the goods movement.
“Air pollution, the ISR (Indirect Source Rule) is something we’re pushing for right now,” she said. “We’re gonna have a toxic tour with EPA members who are on the governing board, and we’re going to be showing them toxic areas in the IE. That’s always ongoing.”
She said PC4EJ is also encouraging more participation because Black and Brown areas suffer the highest pollution impact. The organization seeks to connect with leaders and is looking for volunteers or community members to come share their toxic stories, or speak at city council meetings.
Jennifer Xicara, spokesperson for Akoma Unity Center, said the water testing program will take place during Akoma’s Sankofa Saturday on a bi-monthly basis starting in August. They are inviting interested students ages 12 to 17 to register at www.akomaunitycenter.org
As Hakan Jackson looks around, he said it’s obvious that pollution is the slow killer.
But for the longest time, the big issue has been fighting for jobs versus fighting for the health of the community. Financial needs are more immediate, but he said a lot of communities are not considering how toxic local warehouses have become with truck traffic and commerce.
Jackson has worked at both PC4EJ and Inland Congregations United for Change. Both organizations are trying to get more Black organizers and participants into the mix.
“The environmental justice movement, started with Black people, are going strongest in Black areas due to redlining, environmental racism itself targets black communities above any other communities, that’s just the heart of the issue,” said Jackson, chair of the Jurupa Valley Planning Commission.
The Inland Empire has been a huge lure for logistics, but he said there has been some headway with the Indirect Source Rule and other policies to help reduce emissions.
The problem, he said, is that warehouses have learned to sweeten the deal with jobs to get a foot in the door of the community, but those jobs come with a high price.
“This area is a natural logistics hub because of all the stuff that comes through the Los Angeles and Long Beach harbor,” he said. “All the things that come with it, the traffic on the 60 [freeway] you see all the trucks. Jobs are not enough because people are dying.”
People’s Collective for Environmental Justice (PC4EJ) is also part of a member coalition with Just San Bernardino Collaborative, which released its People’s Plan for San Bernardino and a community survey earlier this year.
For more information on the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice, see https://pc4ej.org/
For more information on the community-wide collaborative study, see the People’s Plan for Economic Inclusion at https://bit.ly/3O79JUSTSB