Robert Bullard, ‘Father of Environmental Justice,’ Will Speak on Earth Day at UMass Amherst

AMHERST, Mass. – Robert Bullard, often called the father of environmental justice and a leading campaigner against environmental racism,will give the keynote address for the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s 44th annual Earth Day celebration on Tuesday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in Mahar Auditorium. This and other campus events throughout the day are free and open to the public.

This year’s theme is “Climate Change: Building a Diverse Movement for Environmental Justice and Sustainability.” Organizers hope the campus community will reflect on Bullard’s decades-long campaign against ecoracism and be inspired to take action toward building more diversity and inclusivity into the sustainability community on campus and in the broader community, says Ezra Small, campus sustainability manager.

“We hope that by studying and following Dr. Bullard’s work, we can engage a broader, more diverse community of people in the sustainability conversation,” he adds.

Environmental justice is a term coined in the 1980s to describe a social movement that seeks to achieve equal distribution of environmental health benefits and the burdens of environmental degradation. Proponents use knowledge and strategies from environmental law, public policy, economic development, planning and other disciplines to identify when groups such as ethnic minorities and the poor are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and degradation.

Bullard’s own activism began in 1979 in Houston, when he and his attorney wife helped African-American residents oppose a city plan to put a landfill in their neighborhood. Bullard conducted a study showing that black neighborhoods had been disproportionately chosen for municipal waste disposal facilities in the city. All five city-owned garbage dumps, six of eight city-owned garbage incinerators and three of four privately owned landfills were located in black neighborhoods, although blacks made up only 25 percent of the population.

Today Bullard is dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston. In 2013, he was honored with the Sierra Club John Muir Award, the first African-American to win the award. In 2010 the African-American news outlet The Grio, named him one of the “100 Black History Makers in the Making,” and Planet Harmony named him one of “Ten African American Green Heroes.”

Bullard received his Ph.D. from Iowa State University. He is the author of 17 books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and regional equity. His 2000 book, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality is a standard environmental justice text. His most recent books include the 2007 title, The Black Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century: Race, Power, and the Politics of Place.

Bullard’s talk kicks off four days of campus activities held in connection with the YWCA’s annual Stand Against Racism campaign. Other campus Earth Day events include an Earth Day Yogathon with continuous yoga instruction and a fundraiser for Protect Our Breasts from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the Fine Arts Center plaza and a Sustainability Fair on the Goodell Lawn from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fair will feature music, trivia and other games, a bicycle auction and garden/farm market booths.

In keeping with this year’s theme, there will be a community panel on environmental justice with hip hop activist and 2008 Green Party vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente, Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, youth director Ibrahim Ali of the Springfield Gardening the Community Project and Diego Angarita of Nuestras Raices, Inc. in the Commonwealth Honors College Events Hall from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., followed by a campus dialogue, “Building Diverse Movements for Environmental Justice and Sustainability” in the same location from 3:30 to 5 p.m.


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