This year, our Go LIVE for Equity series dove deep into the topic of environmental racism and how it affects us in Cleveland. To continue the conversation, we sat down with Erika Hood, Ebony Hood, and Marica Hood of Syatt.
Syatt is Cleveland-based organization dedicated to supporting Cleveland communities of color through culturally relevant programming in the natural and built environment, where youth and adults experience relief leading to life-changing transformation. Click here to learn more about and support Syatt’s mission, and continue reading for our conversation with its founders.
YWCA Greater Cleveland: What is environmental racism? How does environmental racism affect Cleveland as a whole?
Syatt: [Environmental racism is] environmental injustices that directly impact black and brown people, whether it relates to unjust policies or direct practices. Environmental racism affects Cleveland in many ways, whether it is an issue with industry pollutants impacting Black and Brown neighborhoods, illegal dumping, homes with lead, and even the exclusion of black and brown voices from the environmental justice movement.
YWCA: How does the current mainstream environmental justice movement exclude BIPOC? How does this affect BIPOC relationship with outdoors and environmental justice?
Syatt: The mainstream environmental justice movement has historically excluded BIPOC voices. The mainstream movement tends to ignore the “justice” piece, putting a heavier focus on simply the environmental movement. The environmental movement and environmental justice movement runs parallel to one another at times. Cleveland made a HUGE impact in the environmental justice movement when our beloved river caught fire in 1969. Then Mayor Carl Stokes and his brother Louis Stokes were on the frontline for the passing of the Clean Water Act of 1972. We have to continuously uphold the legacy of the Stokes brothers and those engaged residents because in some spaces their contributions are minimized and overshadowed by white environmentalists.
YWCA: Why are BIPOC organizations so important in addressing environmental racism in Ohio?
Syatt: BIPOC are important because they are the communities that are hit hardest by environmental injustices. They also have the trust of their community and understand some of the challenges that may exist in engaging community members in the environmental movement or some of the challenges in elevating the voices of residents who are making a difference.
YWCA: How is education critical to addressing environmental racism in Ohio?
Syatt: The education piece is really important. Folks outside of the BIPOC community need to know that there are BIPOC folks doing this work! Thanks to organizations like Black Environmental Leaders a space was created for black environmentalists to elevate their voices, organize, and advocate for their community. Community members may not be able to always call it by name, but they know and are living these injustices. Sometimes it is helping reach that deeper understanding as to WHY things are the way they are and HOW to advocate for change.
YWCA: How are children important to addressing environmental racism in Ohio?
Syatt: Our youth will be our next leaders. Unfortunately, they will inherit a mess. We have to uplift and support young people during this movement. They are much more knowledgeable and progressive, and inherently look through an equity lens.
YWCA: How is community involvement and uplifting the voices of those affected related to climate justice?
Syatt: Who better to tell the stories of how environmental injustices impact their lives than the communities impacted. It follows the “Do nothing about us, without us” rules. We have to create the table, create the space to advance the movement.
YWCA: How do you and the SYATT lead the charge in centering community need?
Syatt: Syatt was born out of a need for equity and restoring balance in outdoor spaces. Our programming is driven by our community members. We design tailored programming and experiences for black folks to address access issues to outdoor spaces and barriers to nature that exist within the community.
YWCA: Once community need is targeted by an organization, how can we support them in their work?
Syatt: Provide a platform for education and engagement. Communication goes a long way. We’ve noticed through the years that we are so busy grinding for our purpose and mission that we fail to tell our story and reach folks that need to know about us and understand our work.
YWCA: Do we as individuals have a personal responsibility in working to achieve climate justice? How can we achieve this?
Syatt: Understanding one’s impact on climate change is huge. It is very easy to distance yourself when you do not see yourself represented within the movement, taking on the , “meh, this aint for me” attitude. Especially when the voices and contributions from folks like you have been consistently minimized. It is extremely important for individuals to understand how climate justice impacts their health, families, careers, and future. It is also important to make those cultural connections to show how BIPOC folks have been stewards of the environment for generations.
YWCA: How can BIPOC’s difficult relationship with the environment and outdoor activities be repaired?
Syatt: Organizations like Syatt confront head on the barriers and challenges that people of color face outdoors. We need to reconnect with nature. Tap into our ancestors and restore that love for land and water…and the sense of respect for the planet that comes with that relationship. Syatt is helping folks repair that broken relationship with someone that has been so near and dear to our existence…nature.
YWCA: What does true climate justice look like in Cleveland?
Syatt: We hope that like in 1969, Cleveland can stand at the front of the environmental movement, but for more positive reasons. We hope to lead the charge when it comes to setting examples of how political leadership and community can work together to address injustice and make Cleveland a stronger city because everyone benefits from climate justice. It is not just for certain neighborhoods or communities. When community organizations and community leaders are respected for their expertise and contribution to the movements…..and when the health and future of each and every Cleveland resident is regarded with intention and prudence, we will be on the right track.