This is a guest post from Moms Clean Air Force volunteer, Eneshal Miller:
I received the invite to a roundtable discussion about climate change and health, a week in advance. But there was no mention of President Obama’s attendance. I started my day as usual, coffee and a bagel. Then I walked my dog, and got a head start on planning things for my family’s spring break. When I arrived at Howard University, everyone was so excited and helpful. A gentleman walked me to the location where the roundtable meeting would take place and we talked about the who, what and why I was there. He worked for the university and mentioned his family was impacted by climate change. He told me about how his sister and others in his family suffered from asthma. We heard whispers that President Obama was in the building. So I patiently waited in a room filled with news reporters and African American students. The excitement in that room was contagious.
Soon a staff person asked me to follow her and I was whisked away. I was quite nervous. When I entered the room, I saw a nameplate with my name. I introduced myself to Charlotte Wallace, Pediatric Nurse and Sustainability Coordinator at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Maryland, Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens and Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General. Everyone was in good spirits until someone mentioned that Charlotte was sitting next to President Obama. That’s when I lost it! How did this happen? I never imagined President Obama would really join us (I’m still in shock, even today). Suddenly, there was President Barack Obama wearing a sincere smile. He was very welcoming and he called me by my name! I wondered, should I hug him or ask for a selfie? Anyway, the President said thank you for being here, Eneshal Miller. I said to myself, “Oh, what a day!”
I listened to President Obama talk about the importance connecting climate change to health. He outlined the steps the administration has taken to address the issue and how they will continue work to reduce the health impacts of climate change on our communities and especially, those most vulnerable — children, seniors, communities of color. President Obama talked about how hazardous weather events exacerbate climate change — droughts, severe storms. He stressed the importance of being proactive. What really hit home for me was when the President said how we must engage people where they are…where they stand. I thought, “Wow, it’s so awesome he was actually thinking the exact same thing I was!”
I thanked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for inviting me. She gave me a high five and congratulated Moms Clean Air Force and the MCAF volunteers for all we do to protect children’s health in our communities.
Each member of the roundtable shared a little background about how climate change has affected them, their families, their patients and their communities. I spoke about being a parent of a 16 year-old boy with asthma, and what triggers his asthma attacks – he gets sicker at outdoor events. On very hot days, we have to stay inside. This means I have to stay home to take care of him. His attacks increase when we ride on public transportation. I find we need to adjust our lives around my son’s asthma. Since I’ve been involved with MCAF in Maryland, I have learned so much about the causes of asthma and how climate change makes my son’s illness worse.
I also spoke about how seniors are hurt by climate change, especially with severe allergies or underlying illnesses. I feel climate change impacts the most vulnerable. This is why we need strong policies that support seniors and children who are high risk. I also shared about how being a volunteer for Mom’s Clean Air Force gave me the tools to speak to people in my community about climate change and their health.
As a woman, and someone who feels strongly that minorities are invested in the environment, I left the roundtable feeling inspired. As our community continues to struggle for civil rights, our environmental compass stands strong.
When I went home and told my family about my experience, I realized this is a day I will never forget as long as I live. Thank you Moms Clean Air Force and thank you, President Obama for making our children’s health a priority for now and the future.
President Barack Obama participates in a roundtable discussion on climate change and public health at the Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., April 7, 2015. (Official White House Photos by Pete Souza)
– Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General
– Gina McCarthy, EPA Administrator
– Brian Deese, Senior Advisor to the President
-Dr. Edward E. Cornwell, III, Dean, Howard University College of Medicine
-Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, Director of the Environmental Health Bureau, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
– Eneshal Miller, Volunteer, Moms Clean Air Force, Mother of an Asthmatic Son
– Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens, Director and Founder, The Community Asthma Prevention Program, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
– Charlotte Wallace, RN, Sustainability Coordinator, Anne Arundel Medical Center
-Salih Grevious, Student, Howard University College of Medicine and Member of Student National Medical Association Environmental Taskforce
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