When my friend Amy asked me if I’d be interested in writing for a mom’s blog about clean air, my first reply was, “No, thanks. It’s not my thing.” Ironically, I think of myself as an activist, mother and nature lover, but being an advocate for environmental issues seemed like it fell outside of my cultural and everyday experiences. Yes, there are many black environmental activists such as Green for All’s Van Jones, MacArthur “genius’ grant winning Majora Carter, and Blacks in Green’s fearless leader, Naomi Davis. They are visible, fierce and trailblazing. However, being a teacher from the inner city, the advocacy issues I deemed critical and immediate were around bullying, youth violence, poverty, school dropouts, and low literacy rates. In my mind, that was more than enough for me to chew on without adding another demanding issue to my plate. I marinated on this opportunity for weeks and it gave me a chance to pay more attention to my surroundings and process my thoughts.
I had a girl’s road trip planned and flew into Kentucky to meet my road dogs. We left the airport in our rental car and stopped to get something to eat. As I exited the car, I recall me breathing deeply outside of the Waffle House and commenting on how nice the air was in this open stretch of land. It was interesting that my body would notice and immediately begin taking deeper, longer breaths. It’s sad, but clean air is a bit of a luxury to me. I’ve grown to expect it on nice vacations and trips down south, but not in my everyday life. Not only do I live in a city with too much congestion, I also grew up with a chain-smoking parent who refused to crack a window to let the smoke out, despite my complaints about secondhand smoke. Some would say that I’m lucky to have a healthy pair of lungs, but my father isn’t so fortunate. He now has respiratory issues so profound that he must sleep with an oxygen mask. Several of my students have respiratory problems as well.
I work at a high school and our students must walk up three flights of stairs. It’s sad that so many of them, primarily African-American and Latino, can’t accomplish this simple act due to chronic asthma problems. Several of them have had asthma attacks at the school. With all of the pollution in Chicago and power plants on Chicago’s Southside, I imagine that many of these attacks are due to environmental triggers. There are two nearby coal-fired power plants, the Fisk plant and the Crawford plant, which have been under constant pressure by local activists to close due to their close proximity to residents and dangerous emissions. As of this week, both plants have finally agreed to close within the next two years. This is because regular people decided to speak up and demand more for our community and our children. Hopefully, I can become one of these brazen green souls who cares just as much about toxic air as I do about the toxic behaviors in our community because they are both killing us.
A recent CBS article reported that in Chicago, the rate of hospitalization for asthma is twice as high as the national average and that African-Americans and Latinos are 4-6 times more likely to die from asthma than the overall population. Disproportionate is an understatement. This trend towards respiratory disease in our communities is an epidemic and should be treated as such. Please join me and countless other moms to fight for our children and their right to clean air. It’s time for me to be a green force for good, so I’m standing in this fight with Moms Clean Air Force. Now who’s with me?
Tina Fakhrid-Deen is a writer, performer, activist, and high school drama and English teacher. She is the author of Let’s Get This Straight: The Ultimate Handbook for Youth with LGBTQ Parents. Her stories, insights and essays have been featured in publications such as Scott Foresman, the Not for Tourists Guide to Chicago, Without A Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, Sometimes Rhythm, Sometimes Blues: Young African-Americans on Love, Relationships, Sex, and the Search for Mr. Right, My Soul to His Spirit: Soulful Expressions From Black Daughters To Their Fathers, Homegirls Make Some Noise: Hip-Hop Feminism Anthology, and Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is. She resides in Chicago, IL with her family. You can connect with Tina at her website www.tinafakhriddeen.com