DETROIT, MI - On April 9th, 2016 UM-Dearborn Health and Human Services Assistant Professor Natalie Sampson lead a group of nearly 20 people —students, faculty and community members— who took part in an Environmental Justice Tour of the Motor City. The tour bus, funded through a grant from the Hub for Teaching and Learning Resources, visited eight sites in the city, including the Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Marathon Oil Refinery and the Detroit Municipal Waste Incinerator.“We’ve been discussing the science and the policy in class, but getting on the ground and seeing how it all plays out in the real world is important."
“You can share stories about this in class all day long. But when you go out and see it and talk to residents, there is much more of a lasting impact,” said Sampson, who offered the tour as part this semester’s Introduction to Environmental Health course.
|The Environmental Tour Bus made a stop at the Detroit Wastewater|
Sampson, who frequently collaborates on city environmental efforts, invited two of her Detroit activist colleagues— Kimberly Hill Knott from Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and Vincent Martin from Human Synergy Works— to narrate the tour and answer questions.
|Kimberly Hill Knott, Director of Policy at Detroiters|
Working for Environmental Justice, narrates the tour
and answer questions from students.
Hill Knott said the nonprofit organization gives tours frequently. And the effect of the tour is sobering.
“We take lawmakers, company heads, hip-hop artists on tours like this to see what is going on around our city,” she said. “By the end of the tour, there is usually silence because people are thinking about what they just saw. We want to bring awareness, so that change can come next.”
The Delray Neighborhood was one of the most impactful sites for the visitors. Professor Sampson mentioned that "The juxtaposition of the kids' playscape with the wastewater treatment plant is powerful". Scott Brines and Vincent Martin offered important context about what it means to live with industry and commercial traffic in your neighborhood, as well as the work it takes to advocate for your community in this context.
Despite the many environmental problems in Detroit, Sampson, Hill Knott and Martin also wanted participants to understand that many are working hard to address threats to environmental health and justice.
|Students at Earthworks Urban Farms|
Arriving back to campus, senior Margaret Kelley said the tour was a reality check—one she was glad to have.
“Even with Detroit’s revitalization, people in the neighborhoods have been left out of the conversation,” said Kelley, a health policy studies major. “Making people, like myself—who was a suburbanite my whole life—aware of these environmental and quality of life issues is really important. And I think it will change the conversation going forward.“
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