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Global Environmental Justice students tour Jacksonville and meet with local leaders

Students on environmental justice tourStudents in the Global Environmental Justice course recently teamed up with Groundwork Jacksonville (GWJax) for an Environmental Justice Tour of North Riverside and Mixon Town. They also met with the Honorable Ashantae Green of the Duval Soil and Water Conservation District, Group 4.

The Global Environmental Justice senior research seminar is co-taught by Dr. Charles Closmann, history associate professor, and Dr. Josh Gellers, political science & public administration associate professor. The course aims to teach students about environmental activism in their communities.

Gloria McNair, GWJax’s Manager for Community Engagement and Equity, hosted the tour and shared the history of the North Riverside area and the impacts that red lining, environmental contaminants, flooding and disinvestment have had on the community. McNair also outlined the extensive engagement, visioning and equity planning process Groundwork Jacksonville has led in partnership with the resident members of the North Riverside Community Development Corporation.  

The walking tour began at the former Technical High School on King Street and proceeded to Crystal Street where the students got a view of the raised cul-de-sac design that is part of the McCoys Creek restoration project to mitigate flooding. The group also visited the Daily Manna Community Garden where GWJax and Community Restoration Environmental Stewardship Training stewards have helped install and maintain the garden through grant funding and sweat equity to provide a source of free, fresh vegetables in the area’s food desert.

“The tour sought to understand the origins of environmental justice issues, how different stakeholders have gotten involved over time, and some of the policy solutions that have developed over time,” explained Dr. Closmann.

Students on environmental justice tourIn another community outreach session, the Honorable Ashantae Green, Duval County Soil and Water Conservation District Group 4 supervisor, covered a wide range of topics, from how she got her start in environmental advocacy to striving to achieve work-life balance to making an impact in your community. She told students that while she witnessed environmental injustices growing up on Jacksonville’s East Side, becoming a mom to a baby with health issues aggravated by environmental conditions sensitized her to the importance of clean air, water, and soil. This life-changing experience served as the catalyst that urged her to run for and ultimately win political office.

She inspired students by discussing how growing her own food during the pandemic caused her to pivot away from her former architectural design career and move towards launching a farm of her own, the Green Legacy Farm. Together with her mother, Green also recently opened a store in Springfield, Farmery Bakery and Bodega, which features products grown on her farm.

“Our goal with these events is to provide students with direct knowledge of the lived experiences of local environmental justice communities and expose them to opportunities to turn their passions into fulfilling careers,” said Dr. Gellers.