Friday evening marked the Northeast launch of Bard CEP’s C2C Fellows Program, a national network for undergraduates and recent graduates aspiring to sustainability leadership in politics and business. Majora Carter, the keynote speaker, chronicled her childhood growing up in the South Bronx amidst continual environmental degradation leading to her eventual role spearheading sustainable development in the community.
As pollution in the South Bronx increased throughout the ‘80s (the area dealt with 40% of NYC’s commercial waste), pediatric asthma rates soared and Ms. Carter planned her escape through education. Upon returning to the South Bronx after college at Wesleyan University to complete a MFA degree at NYU, she became reacquainted with her childhood neighborhood. While the citizens of the South Bronx always knew how to fight against, they “Didn’t know how< to fight for stuff.” This all changed in 1998 when Ms. Carter’s dog, Xena, dragged her though an abandoned lot to the banks of the Bronx River. This provided the spark for a seed grant that began the $3 million revitalization of the South Bronx Riverfront and construction of a greenway. Ms. Carter’s narrative of her campaign to “Green the Ghetto” in the South Bronx can be seen in an emotional TED Talk in which she illustrates the fight for environmental justice in generationally-impoverished communities. Majora Carter’s vision: “I believe that you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.”
Throughout her presentation, Ms. Carter stressed the importance of solving big problems with local security projects, “home(town) security,” by thinking and acting local. This strategy aims to avoid some of the challenges posed by confronting huge issues like climate change that are overwhelming and make people feel helpless. Most importantly, when you have an idea “research the hell out of it.” Through her current initiatives to raise the bar for economic development in the South Bronx with mixed-use housing and commercial projects, Ms. Carter hopes to raise the expectations in the community. She shared an important piece of wisdom for anyone pursuing a leadership career, “find the joy in everything that you do.”
Ms. Carter ended with an except from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. that is especially pertinent to the current leadership needed to address climate change issues, “I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.”
Sign up to stay informed about future C2C Fellows Program including workshops across the country. C2C Fellows engages 300 students each year in intensive, weekend leadership trainings. C2C stands for Campus to Congress, to Capitol, to City Hall, and to Corporation. The next launch workshop is scheduled for Winter 2012 in the Southeast at the University of Georgia. This Wednesday, December 7th, call in to the final National Climate Seminar of the semester, with author and journalist Mark Hertsgaard, for a conversation entitled “Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.” Mark Hertsgaard has investigated global warming for outlets including the New Yorker, NPR, Time, Vanity Fair, and the Nation. For more information on the National Climate Seminar please see the NCS website.