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A Brief But Spectacular take on community resiliency


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: Elizabeth Yeampierre is an attorney and a climate justice leader born and raised in New York City. As executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn's oldest Latino community-based organization. She's leading change in sustainable development, environmental justice, and community-led adaptation.

Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on community resiliency.

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director, UPROSE: My father died of an asthma attack when he was in his early 50s. My mom just had lung cancer and passed away recently. I had a bilateral pulmonary embolism that almost took me out a few years ago.

And what we all have in common in my family is that we were all born and raised in what we call environmental justice communities. So, this problem of environmental racism is personal.

You grow up in a family that has asthma, upper respiratory disease, living in the midst of spaces where there are brownfields, lead paint, and the kinds of emissions that harm our community, as descendants of colonialism and extraction and enslavement, we are particularly susceptible to toxic exposure.

I think it was around 1996 when a woman in the community told me that she would get up in the middle of the night to see if her children were still breathing. They lived under the Gowanus Expressway. And I realized that, if we couldn't breathe, we couldn't fight for justice, that, literally, there wasn't anything more fundamental than the right to breathe.

That's like my entry into the environmental justice movement. Environmental justice is the disparate citing of environmental burdens in low income-communities and communities of color. All we need to do is look at Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Andrew, and you will know who was impacted most.

Literally, the people least responsible for creating climate change, Black, indigenous, people of color, people who have -- historically have always lived within their carbon footprint, those are the communities that are most devastated and most impacted by climate change.

I think, if our ancestors had thought that everything was hopeless when they were in shackles, when they would be brutally beaten, we wouldn't be here right now. And so I tell young people to get lessons from their ancestors, and remember that we are supposed to be fighting, building beyond this moment of crisis right now.

When you do this work, the people that you love that have been toiling under the worst circumstances for generations aren't at those tables that we're at. And so we bring that narrative with us. We bring that personal story with us. We can't separate that personal narrative, that narrative from policy, from science, from research, from data collection, from decision-making.

Everything that we do is shaped by the concern to ensure that future generations are not impacted like our families have been.

My name is Elizabeth Yeampierre, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on climate justice.

Judy Woodruff: So important to hear that perspective.

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