My Experience Learning About Racial and Environmental Justice In New Orleans

From March 28th to April 1st I went with 10 students from the Sidwell Friends School as a chaperone to New Orleans to learn with them more about the topic of “racial and environmental justice”.
Our program was divided in direct service work with organizations like “Greenlight New Orleans” and the work with the “Isle de Jean Charles Tribe” and in a learning part, where we met with the “American Friends Service Committee”, the “Sierra Club” and the “People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond”.
Every evening we had a reflection about the day, where we discussed the experience, reflected about our own lives and living situations and started to connect what we experienced.
This started with the social justice tour, which was given by a “Sierra Club” fellow, who showed us the lower 9th ward, a part of the city that was damaged a lot through hurricane Katrina and was even years after the hurricane not fully rebuild. On the tour we saw projects to rebuild the ward in an environmental suitable way and learned more about the population who lived there.
On the second day we worked together with “Greenlight New Orleans”, which is an organization that started by exchanging all the lightbulbs in the city with energy efficient lightbulbs and focuses now on building gardens all over the city by training volunteers to build them on their own. We learned more about the organization and about their goal, about food justice and the special climate in New Orleans.
On Thursday we met with the “Isle de Jean Charles Tribe” and their tribal secretary. In the morning we spoke about the resettling process the tribe is facing and about the difficulties within the process and within the process of reestablishing a space for the community. This revealed the deep connection of racial and environmental justice and the difficulties the communities are facing because of legal issues like federal recognition.
After a crawfish boil as lunch we visited the island and Chantal, the tribal secretary, showed us around on the island.
On the last programming day we met with the AFSC, who spoke with us about their work and the problems in the local politics they are facing. They spoke about problems with their programs in mostly black neighborhoods which revealed the structural racism which is still not solved in this region.
On the afternoon we did an antiracism training at the “People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond”, in which we analysed our own biases and spoke about structural constructs which keep racism and discrimination in place.
On the last day we visited the French Quarter and the students had the opportunity to explore the city on their own.
It was awesome to see how well the group worked and how well the students interacted despite the fact that the majority of them hasn’t been friends before the trip.
It was very impressive for me to see and hear the students thoughts and reflections about our experience. We also discussed ways to stay engaged for the communities and organizations and to take action back home.

Johannes Domsgen
Action Reconciliation Service for Peace volunteer, 2017

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