By Aleah Holt February 23, 2021

Swinging at the park playground, riding bikes, scraped knees, ice cream trucks and jumping through water sprinklers are all vivid memories of my childhood in New Jersey’s largest city. I have always loved being outside, and I want to keep it that way. Here is my story of rediscovering the environment and learning about the many challenges I couldn’t quite see and understand as a child.

It was during my time at Howard University where what started as just an extracurricular club would serve as the push for a complete career change later down the road. Participating in the Engineers Without Borders student chapter took me on 3 trips to Kenya and opened my eyes to a world beyond graduation. International travel, STEM opportunities, Public Health, Sustainable Development and much more floated around in my brain long after Howard. The “Water Is Life” Project goal was simple — work collectively and alongside the people of the village to install locally sourced biosand filters in their homes. These filters were a simple technology that could convert any water source into drinking water. It was then and there that my perspective shifted–much of the world did not have the basic resources I take for granted daily, especially clean water and electricity. I saw firsthand why water is the lifeblood of our planet. This experience was unforgettable, so much that it inspired me to return to grad school four years later and study Environmental Policy.

I entered American University thinking I would focus on small scale water technologies at the international level, just like the work I did in Kenya. But I left grad school with a passion for Environmental Justice at both the national and local level. It was through my program that I came to realize that the water issues I observed in Kenya were also right here in my backyard, just in a different context. Furthermore, I explored the issues that were interconnected with water including climate change, energy, housing, agriculture, pollution – the list goes on. I became deeply immersed in America’s aging water infrastructure and its impact on Black and brown communities. My final graduate research paper, “Lead Poisoning in America’s Cities: Many Flints in the Making,” explored how prevalent lead poisoning is in the United States. My findings indicated that many cities are even worse than Flint, and still haven’t received the attention needed. This was my final push — I needed to get involved with grassroots organizing to continue empowering and fighting for black and brown people to have sustainable and healthy communities.

I had been following Black Millennials 4 Flint (BM4F) on social media for a while and jumped at the opportunity to become a Lead Prevention Ambassador for the Washington DC region.

Through this program, I authored blogs and reports, suggested recommendations for the Environmental Justice For All Act, created content for the lead prevention social media campaign, and participated in numerous events. This work has been most rewarding because we directly advocate for the needs of African American and Latino communities. I am eager to continue this work with BM4F along with other environmental grassroots organizations. It is imperative that grassroots organizing is involved in the environmental movement; they work on the ground and have historically pushed the needle forward in policy for under-resourced populations whose voices are often left out of the conversation.

As we navigate and strive for a just post-COVID world, we must press forward with innovative ideas for our environmental challenges. The progress within the 21st century has been significant, but not nearly enough, and specifically for the populations who bear the brunt of most environmental harms. We are now threatened by a changing climate, aging infrastructure, more extreme and frequent weather, insufficient housing, polluted air, contaminated water and plenty more issues. This is precisely why environmental activism must include and center the most disproportionately impacted populations. Young people and local activists have been pivotal in leading the movement and must continue to do so, their influence and candor has already created change. In the age of social media with information at our fingertips, let us make our voices and demands heard. We all should want to live in a world worth sharing and dreaming of.

With Love,

Black Millennials 4 Flint Lead Prevention Ambassador 2019-2020

Special thanks to: LaTricea Adams, Aisha Folkes, and Black Millennials 4 Flint

You can follow Black Millennials 4 Flint on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.