Meet The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ)

Mary I. Williams and Frances Roberts-Gregory, DSCEJ Asst. Director of Community and Student Engagement and DSCEJ Gulf Water Equity Corps Project Manager

This is a story from our Ocean Challenge partner Deep South Center for Environmental Justice Progress. Your participation in the Ocean Challenge has helped to support their work!

The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ), a 501c3 nonprofit founded by Dr. Beverly Wright in 1992, is currently working to build the leadership capacity of youth for climate justice and community resiliency. The DSCEJ’’s Ocean Challenge Project entitled “The Gulf Water Equity Corps,” is engaging high school students and students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in research and training to develop solutions to the adverse impacts of sea level rise and flooding in two Gulf Coast Communities. The grant supports the work of two gulf coast communities; the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, LA devastated by flooding from Hurricane Katrina and the Pleasantville Community in Houston, TX devastated by flooding from Hurricane Harvey. The DSCEJ is working with students from Dillard University in New Orleans, Texas Southern University in Houston and local high school students. We are working with the Lower 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) in New Orleans, Louisiana and Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS) in Houston, Texas.

Due to its geographic landscape, the Lower Ninth Ward is the most physically and socially vulnerable neighborhood in the City of New Orleans. It lies several feet below sea level, is isolated from the rest of the city by water and transportation barriers, and has been historically impoverished and segregated. (Middle States Geographer, 2015, 48: 31-40).

Dillard University interns have already begun to identify the number of operational storm drains in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans and strategies to reduce flooding. They have talked to the Sewerage and Water Board, and are currently conducting research to determine how many pumps are operational. They are concerned about the un-kept state of many storm drains that are over grown with foliage. They will later engage local high school youth through a sea level rise curriculum and water asset mapping exercise. New Orleans high school students enrolled in a climate justice seminar have learned about water infrastructure and the pros and cons of pumps. Students were initially surprised to learn that pumps contribute to subsidence and were excited to learn about alternatives such as water gardens. High school students have also discussed their memories of flooding and proposed solutions to combat future conditions when meeting with community partners at Bayou Bienvenue. Moving forward, we plan to have high school and HBCU students work together to conduct water asset mapping in their local communities and educate their peers via community presentations and webinars. We also plan to have students present their findings at the 2019 HBCU Climate Change Conference. As we finalize the details on our sea level rise curriculum, we look forward to seeing the youth explore creative solutions for rising seas. It is important that they are at the frontline of change and solution making and have the support they need to be the leaders of tomorrow.