In January in the United States we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a national holiday that is now known as a National Day of Service to honor the legacy, philosophy and actions of the great humanitarian for civil rights. And in February, we celebrate Black History Month where we remember the important contributions of Americans of African descent. As an African American Ecotherapist and experienced public health social worker I sometimes struggle with finding a way to describe Ecotherapy to my community while also challenging my white colleagues to address the gaping blind spots in Ecopsychology and Environmental movements that rarely address or link the issues of social justice for people of color and poor people in the Unites States to the broader conversation.
And then I began where I always do, contemplating the lives of my ancestors and it is from this point that I begin to see that the work of many African American ancestors was directly tied to repairing, healing and reconciling the complexities of our relationship to nature. It was with these thoughts on my mind that I fell asleep and began to dream.
I went to the homes of these men and I noticed that they didn’t live far from the trash dump, that they had beautiful houses and gardens but their homes were surrounded by the waste of the entire city of Memphis. I began to think of the deep link between how trashing the Earth can easily lead to an easily lead to the ideology that people are trash as well. What is the impact of this way of life and thinking on one’s spirit? And then my heart feels heavy because I begin to think if I live in the community where the public dump is located not only will my physical health suffer but my mental health as well. I may begin to think of myself as “garbage”. I mean why not, when the leaders of my community dump their garbage in my back yard, my role as a sanitation worker is devalue. I receive the lowest wages and work in terribly unsafe working conditions. If you understand the link between what we are doing to poison the planet then you begin to awaken to the fact that in order to trash the planet you have to trash people. I was committed to standing by the Memphis Sanitation Workers and their community. But little did I know at the time that this would be my last civil rights campaign as I would be assassinated in Memphis.