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Environmental Justice for All


Silver Lake Conference Center is the place where a waterfall taught me how to breathe. But I’ll get back to that.

I still remember the first time I visited the United Church of Christ’s beautiful summer camp in 2008. It was my first summer camp experience, and it solidified my opinion that every child should have the chance to visit a summer camp at least once in their lives.

Silver Lake (http://www.silverlakect.org/) meant so much to me, as I was used to the concrete jungle where graffitti art decorated the landscape like the trees decorated camp.

Well that’s not entirely true; I lived in Norwalk since I was 10, and my aunt and uncle have a beautiful yard with trees, a rock garden, and double the forest creatures in any given Disney movie.

But something about camp...it was different. Settling in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains and hearing all kinds of natural sounds intrigued me.

Living in a cabin and hearing a fisher cat screaming in the night; swimming in the lake and roasting marshmallows over a campfire; having no phone signal or wifi and fully embracing nature and community...that was something that was exclusive to camp, for me at least.

Pam Foxley Arifian, the Sustainability Director at Silver Lake Conference Center, holding fresh carrots from the camp garden

Fast forward to now, and I’ve already worked four summers at the camp, spending 9 weeks in the wild of Sharon, CT as a camp counselor.

It’s honestly become one of my favorite places to exercise as well, doing bear crawls up the long hill, pull ups on the trees, or simply running around all day with the campers.

One of the things that I’ve truly had the pleasure of doing as a counselor is helping to facilitate the Environmental Justice for All conference, which aims to foster awareness about environmental justice issues around the world, and in our home communities.

Here are the things I learned while counseling for this conference.

Environmental Justice for All 2015

Let’s pause for just a second. “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

What does that mean in English? Well it means that other kids raised in the concrete jungle like me won’t have access to the beautiful landscape of Silver Lake.

In fact, some kids, due to environmental justice issues, won’t even reach the minimum age to sign-up for a summer conference.

Did you know that an industrial waste facility near a predominantly white neighborhood can earn the company a fine of over $330,000?

Take a wild guess how much the fine is to put it near communities of color?

Roughly $55,000. (Source)

Naturally, communities of color that never had a say get big waste production facilities next to their parks and playgrounds. Cancer, lead poisoning, and a grocery list of ailments begin to affect the residents near those facilities, yet they’re too priced out of other neighborhoods to try and escape.

Why am I posting this on a fitness site? Because it’s a health issue. I, myself, was born with sleep apnea, asthma, and a frail constitution due to Agent Orange related complications. Hell, I died twice.

When corporations with big money impose their decisions on communities that aren’t even near the table where the decisions were made, lives get truly affected. Old families headed to a small, reclusive area to retire end up with fracking chemicals in their water.

Flint (that’s all I gotta say.)

The UCC protesting at the People's Climate March in 2014, the largest climate march in history with roughly 311,000 participants

You see, when I walked into the woods of camp, there was this little chapel with a few wood benches next to a waterfall. The rushing water made the air slightly cooler, and seemed to make music with the landscape, as the birds above conducted the symphony.

The only thing that seemed right at the moment was tranquility; I quieted my mind, sat down on a bench, and breathed. Not just the mindless breathing we all do throughout the day, but an energy filled breath with the life principle flowing through my lungs.

And I realized that some people would never have that moment, never breathe air half as clean, and never experience a nature so purely peaceful.

Had I not gone to Silver Lake, perhaps I’d never have it either.

Justice is not defended by those who are wronged; justice is defended by those who have solidarity with those who are wronged. Environmental justice is a battle that suffering communities may sometimes win. But it’ll take the action of those who have power, of those who have connections…

...of those who can inhale that sweet, serene summer air…

It’ll take them to stand with those communities (as the UCC and UMass are doing divesting from fossil fuels) for the war to be won.

I'm a one man wolfpack for environmental justice.

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