Advocates attack environmental justice in a bid to empower underserved Las Vegans

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Christophe De Vargas

Tameka Henry, left, and Cheyenne Kyle, right, of the Obodo Las Vegas collective pose for a portrait outside Historic Westside School on Tuesday, September 7, 2021.

In Cheyenne Kyle’s house, everything has a second life.

Her plastic grocery bags turn into shower caps while her butter containers turn into food storage containers.

Kyle, program coordinator for the Obodo Collective, said people of color have been practicing conservation efforts for years, although they may not be familiar with the more sophisticated or technical terms often applied to their actions.

“It’s something that we do in practice, but we’re not aware of it as a concept,” Kyle said. “When you cross the threshold into white America, you have these words like ‘upcycling’ and stuff like that, and that’s what we’ve been doing forever.”

The local organization Obodo Collective works primarily in the West Historic District of Las Vegas to educate residents on issues such as food safety.

Informing residents who may not have full access to education about the environmental justice movement is key to the collective’s work, said collective executive director Tameka Henry.

“We need more allies in this job,” said Henry. “We will learn together and grow together and just help people become the best advocates for themselves, their families and their communities.”

In the face of studies confirming the drastic changes to come in the climate – as well as the impact these changes will have on low-income people and people of color – local organizations are prioritizing climate justice by connecting with people. the most vulnerable. Climate justice combines the fight against climate change with issues of social inequality. Community leaders of color like Kyle and Henry are leading these campaigns in Las Vegas.

Nationally, President Joe Biden has pledged to put the fight against environmental racism at the heart of his climate change plan, underscoring the need to protect poor and minority communities who are exposed to more than pollution and other adverse climatic effects that the better off. communities.

Locally, the collective is trying to create a community garden to show residents how to grow fresh produce. Henry, who lives in the historic Westside, said the area is populated with gas stations and fastfine dining restaurants, none of which sell healthy foods.

While bringing a healthy grocery store like Sprouts or Trader Joe’s to the neighborhood can be effective, a more productive avenue would be to simultaneously teach residents what healthy foods they would buy at those stores, Kyle said. Japanese eggplants, for example, might not be part of a resident’s diet and, therefore, they wouldn’t know how to prepare them, she said.

“I feel like knowing how to feed themselves is essential, but especially where people are underserved,” Kyle said. “It helps them to be less dependent, and it does something to boost the morale of these people. “

Make the Road Nevada, a nonprofit that connects with working class and immigrant communities, also promotes environmental justice in underserved communities in Las Vegas.

Last week, the group held a resource fair for street vendors near its headquarters on Bonanza Road. The fair provided the COVID-19 vaccine, housing information, banking advice for undocumented migrants and other resources. The first 15 vaccine recipients received a $ 100 gift card at Smith’s grocery store, said Audrey Peral, organizing director of Make the Road Nevada.

Street vendors, who sell goods such as wares and souvenirs, are among the most susceptible to rising temperatures due to climate change in Las Vegas, according to Make the Road Nevada. Some sell outside all day, settling on busy roadsides. Many salespeople are undocumented immigrants, Peral said, and often don’t know how to access resources to help themselves and their businesses.

“Part of how we approach environmental justice is largely through a people-centered lens,” said Peral. “The idea is that we continue to uplift, empower and engage, going forward we come together to talk about politics and how can we push for a greener, safer and better Nevada.”

Street vendor Letty Cruz, who sells clothing from Letty’s Construction Ware, said she heard about the event through Peral. The availability of vaccines and housing information appealed to her the most, she said.

“I don’t own a house right now, but I’m looking to have one,” said Cruz. “There are all the requirements and different programs, so I can learn more about that. “

Heliodoro Ramirez, a resident of Las Vegas, said his sons urged him to receive the vaccine. When he saw them available at the fair, he felt motivated to get his first dose.

Ramirez said he would speak with LaLo Montoya, the housing organizer of Make the Road Nevada, about an application for the CARES housing assistance program – another resource at the fair.

“Something in my heart was racing and telling me I should go back,” he said in Spanish, translated by Peral. “[I’m] so sure that god sent [me] because there are other resources that [I] really necessary.

The fair also featured Fifth Sun Project, a local nonprofit organization that raises funds for community members in need. In July, the group raised approximately $ 1,600 through a dance competition, and at the Make the Road Fair, the group distributed all funds to street vendors.

“I think it’s important to let the community know that there are resources for them,” said Xochitl Garcia, vice president of the Fifth Sun Project. “I know a lot of people in low income neighborhoods don’t know what resources are available to them, so I think it’s really important to have all of these things available.”


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