We are pleased to share that the University of Michigan chose Voices for Earth Justice to be part of its Detroit Community-Based Research Program (DCBRP) for Summer 2018. U-M will pay a full-time research intern to work with us from June to August.
This summer, Voices for Earth Justice will host research intern Chloe Hypes, a junior environmental science major from Stockbridge, Michigan. Chloe's studies focus on food policy and food sustainability with special emphasis on nutrition access in rural areas. She is on scholarship at U-M, a fact more remarkable because she is also a first-generation college student. She has studied and volunteered in Peru and Tanzania and will spend May in Costa Rica before joining Voices for Earth Justice in June.
As part of the Detroit Community-Based Research Program, Chloe will receive local housing and a stipend from U-M. At Voices for Earth Justice, she will work 40 hours per week on two projects:
The questions Chloe will seek to answer are: What Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits meet the economic, health, social, or spiritual needs of people in Brightmoor? Are these Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits affordable and easy enough that Brightmoor residents will see the benefits and take them up as part of their lives? How many people in Brightmoor are likely to take up these Earth-friendly lifestyles or personal habits? What does Voices for Earth Justice need to do to bring this about over the next few years?
In short: What does Everyday Earth Justice look like in Brightmoor?
We hope you'll keep Chloe and our neighbors and team in your prayers this summer. We also hope you'll donate, visit, or volunteer as your own Everyday Earth Justice.
Grace and peace!
Let’s create a Detroit where all residents can save money, have clean walkable neighborhoods, pursue good jobs, and live a healthy lifestyle. The Office of Sustainability is looking to work with engaged and motivated Detroiters to uplift residents’ voices and keep the community connected during the planning phase and beyond.
Sustainability Ambassadors will be advocates for Detroiters, first and foremost. Ambassadors will seek ideas and input from people in their neighborhoods and help us shape an agenda that puts all Detroiters first. The plan will inform how we:
Sustainability Ambassadors are:
The University of Michigan chose Hope House & Gardens as one site in a large ongoing study of allergenic pollen and its effects on children in Detroit. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, is being conducted by Dr. Dan Katz, a postdoctoral fellow at U-M's School of Public Health.
According to Dr. Katz's website, the study focuses on the "intersection of plant ecology, public health, and aerobiology."
At Hope House & Gardens, U-M students will set up and monitor a pollen collection instrument each week during the growing season. Once a week, students will visit the site to record the pollen data the instrument collects.
"Partnerships like this one are an important part of what we do," said Voices for Earth Justice executive director BT Irwin. "By giving U-M researchers access to Hope House & Gardens, we're contributing to research that can make a difference in the lives of our neighbors and to Earth."
Let's start with some housekeeping.
A month or two ago, I posted that our board is working on new mission and vision statements. We got far enough along that the board was looking at a draft. However, after talking over that draft the board decided to put it on the back burner for now.
Well, it's almost spring...and we've got a garden to grow and friends and neighbors to bless, serve, and teach. That's a lot of work for a little organization like Voices for Earth Justice! For now, we are choosing to work with our friends rather than talk about words.
That brings me to the point of this post: The work we're going to do with our friends and why that work matters now.
One thing I'll share with you from the mission and vision draft we put on hold is this little mantra: Everyday Earth Justice.
That little mantra will guide me as I guide Voices for Earth Justice.
What does it mean?
I take Everyday Earth Justice to mean making Earth justice part of our everyday lives. As habitual a practice as brushing our teeth. It means doing Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with. It means changing our lives just a little more each day to be a little more just.
Truth: Ordinary people changing their everyday lives make a far greater difference than the biggest organizations with the biggest budgets and biggest programs.
So, when I think about Voices for Earth Justice, I don't think about how to make it bigger; I think about how we can help more ordinary people make more small changes that add up to a bigger difference in their lives and in our world.
Are you with me?
So, the question is: How will Voices for Earth Justice help ordinary people practice Everyday Earth Justice?
Simple: We ourselves have to do Earth justice wherever we are, with whatever we have, and whomever we're with.
Let's look at each of those things:
Wherever we are: Voices for Earth Justice has been in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for almost seven years.
Whatever we have: Since 2011, we've cared for and cultivated Hope House & Gardens at the corner of Greydale and Puritan streets in Brightmoor.
Whomever we're with: We have a small, but passionate core group of donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers.
So, then, Voices for Earth Justice will do Everyday Earth Justice by helping our donors, friends, neighbors, and volunteers celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice together at Hope House & Gardens in Brightmoor.
How will we know we're doing this well?
To answer that question, I believe we need to find answers to five other questions:
We don't yet have answers to the first two questions. This month, we hired L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams to be our garden program leader. Part of her job will be to help us answer Questions 1 and 2 so we can set some goals for 2018 and 2019.
As for Questions 3, 4, and 5, we set this goal: By June 30, 2019, 2,019 people will come to Hope House & Gardens to celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice. At least half (1,010) will be our Brightmoor neighbors.
So, in summary, we are setting two "mission goals" we want to accomplish by the end of Summer 2019:
Here's our plan to accomplish these goals:
What do you think? Are you with us?
If so, you have an important role to play in all of this. You can join us in practicing and supporting Everyday Earth Justice.
Here are three ways you can help today:
Helping 2,019 people--half of them Brightmoor neighbors--celebrate, discover, and practice Everyday Earth Justice at Hope House & Gardens is what we are all about in 2018 and 2019. Are you all about Everyday Earth Justice, too?
Join us! We are eager to bless and serve you as you work alongside us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams, a garden intern at Voices for Earth Justice in 2016 and 2017, will return as garden program leader in 2018.
As garden program leader, Hawkes-Williams will design and direct the master plan for gardens and green space at VEJ's Hope House & Gardens in Detroit. Gardening is the heart of VEJ's campaign to serve and teach 2,019 neighbors, students, and volunteers at Hope House & Gardens by June 2019.
"Few people know our garden or our neighbors better than L'Oreal," said VEJ executive director BT Irwin. "She has the experience and know-how to make the garden grow; she has the love and passion to help people grow along with it."
This April, Hawkes-Williams will graduate from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree emphasizing African American studies and sustainable food systems. She plans to focus her work on promoting and teaching food sovereignty--"the right of peoples to define their own agriculture and food systems and to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food through ecologically sound and sustainable methods" (Food Sovereignty Alliance).
VEJ is looking for special volunteers to be trained as garden crew leaders in 2018. Garden crew leaders will learn gardening plans and techniques from Hawkes-Williams and then coach and support groups of volunteers as they work in the garden. Garden crew leaders commit to 4 - 8 hours per month. Click here to sign up as a garden crew leader.
Support our 2018 garden program with a gift of money. Your donation will buy supplies and tools and provide support for people like L'Oreal and her team. Click here to make a donation (you may choose to make it in honor of L'Oreal Hawkes-Williams).
Freshwater Future hosted a most worthwhile and energizing water conference at Wayne County Community College in Detroit on March 19. Voices for Earth Justice participated as activists Geri Pleva and Carol Hofer represented us. They were among over a hundred other environmental activists and government representatives participating that day. Most presentations and discussions centered on water access, safety, health issues, affordability and efficiency of water infrastructure, particularly relating to the Detroit and Flint water crises. Geri and Carol are leaders in the Save Water Restaurant initiative which is a joint project of Voices for Earth Justice and the Adrian Dominican Associates.
By Sister Janet Stankowski, OP
What are we doing to our dear Mother Earth?
Are you shaken by yet another environmental disaster looming ahead?
This one dips into the Great Lakes watershed along the Menominee River in Wisconsin and Michigan, with Native Americans begging us to stop it.
The wounding and bleeding of the planet continues. A mining company is moving fast to gain permits for underground and open pit mining of gold and zinc only 150 feet from the river. Bad idea. Why? Because the terrible likelihood remains that sulfides and other pollutants and toxins will leak into the river and neighboring wetlands. No mine with toxic sulfides to date has been able to stop toxic leaks into water sources. It was suggested we gather together in a spirit of solidarity with the Menominee Indians, raising communal awareness of the sacredness of the river and the threat to Native Americans, to local townspeople, and to all wildlife in the area.
We were urged to pray with good hearts and minds, and with gratitude for the created world that has been given to us. We were asked to light sacred fires and pray for protection of all life, with special remembrance of those sustained by the Menominee River.
Carol Hofer organized a prayer gathering for this purpose in January in Roseville.
Pictured are VEJ supporters and the toxic river.
As of this date, the court has delayed the decision on whether permission for constructing the mine will be granted. Holy Spirit of Creation, help us.
Sister Janet Stankowski, OP
Board member and co-founder, Voices for Earth Justice
An "echo chamber" is an "enclosed space for producing reverberation of sound."
In the social media age, the term "echo chamber" now means enclosed groups of people who hold to the same opinion. When people in the group speak, what they share is merely an "echo" of the group's common opinion.
Echo chambers feel good when you're in one. People in the group applaud and pat you on the back. They tell you how you are right and righteous. Being in a group that is strong around a strong opinion makes you feel strong.
Yet recent studies show that echo chambers hurt:
Let's look at each of these.
Society is all of us living together in some order. We often have different opinions about how society should work or for what it should be working. Society works well when people with different opinions learn to give and take with each other. They understand that progress depends on society working well, so they are willing to give up some of what they want now to keep society moving toward what they hope it will become later. When we work together, we all move forward slowly. When we don't work together, we all fall behind very quickly.
Echo chambers break down society. First, they break down the relationships we need with people who are different from ourselves. Since we spend all of our time with people who agree with us, we no longer have friendships, rapport, or trust with people who disagree. This makes it much harder to negotiate progress.
We also lose the ability to empathize and see things from other points of view. We lose our natural curiosity and wonder. This not only affects our relationships with people who are different from ourselves, it ultimately affects relationships with people who are like us. As persons, we get better and better at being alone. We grow smaller and weaker rather than larger and stronger.
Echo chambers hurt society and they hurt ourselves. They also end up hurting the causes we support. Let's say we're passionate about the environment and we spend more and more of our time with other people who are passionate about the environment. But then we are spending less and less time with people who don't share our passion. Some of those people may be passionate about something else. They may be too busy with life to invest much energy and time in the cause. Other people may feel that passion for the environment is misplaced.
The truth is, people who are passionate enough about the environment to make it a full-time job or hobby are likely in a very slim minority. The majority of people probably care about the environment, but it is farther down their list. Another slim minority may be passionate about opposing those who make the environment their priority.
How will those of us who are passionate about the environment move society in our direction if we're only engaging other people who are passionate about the environment? If we're in an echo chamber with a few other environmentalists, what affect or influence are we having on the majority of people in society who aren't as passionate about our cause? What relationships are we forming and growing beyond ourselves to move society forward as a whole rather than just a small part?
For many years when I was either against or indifferent toward environmental causes, it was never about a deep conviction that I held on the matter. Rather, it was a reaction to the people I saw involved in environmental causes. Two really bad things happened: One, I saw those people in their echo chambers--banding together with other environmentalists to gang up on the rest of us. Meanwhile, I was in my own echo chamber with people who were closed-minded and stubborn.
In that kind of situation, no good was going to happen. Both environmentalists and people like myself were in their own echo chambers. We didn't actually know each other. We had no experience with the other. We never left our groups to get to know someone who was different from ourselves.
What progress could we hope to achieve in a situation like that?
If we really care about Earth justice, we owe it to our cause to stay out of echo chambers and do our work in and with society. That means we need to become friends with people who either don't share our same level of passion or who may actually feel like they need to oppose us.
It does no good for Earth and its inhabitants for us to merely feel good about ourselves; we need to give as many people as possible the chance to feel good about what they can do for Earth and each other. We need to be intentional about going out and spending time with people who are not part of our group. We need to be intentional about inviting and welcoming people who don't normally hang out with "environmentalists like us." We need to practice curiosity, empathy, and understanding. We need to be patient. We need to be practical. We need to look for ways to do a little for, and with, broader society rather than a lot for ourselves (to no good end).
Because true Earth justice is not an echo chamber; it's all of us.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice