What do we need to achieve Environmental Justice in Detroit and Dearborn?


Dearborn, MI
The Yemeni American News

Southwest Detroit and Dearborn communities came together to address air quality issues impacting their health and the right to breath safe and clean air. The cross-cultural interaction event was funded through the Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments, sponsored by Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and hosted at Salina Intermediate School.

Event was presented by Karima Alwishah, a UM-Dearborn senior and an environmental activist in the Southend of Dearborn. The community of 48217, largely African-American, has been designated the most contaminated community in Michigan due to TRI data and research presented by Dr. Paul Mohai from the University of Michigan. In Zip codes 48209 and 48210, largest concentration of Latinx people in Michigan, Cancer Cluster study from the State of Michigan show higher incidences of lung and bronchial cancer as the community overburdened by truck traffic pollution and industrial logistics.

In the community of Delray, residents have been fighting for dignity for their lives, homes and communities against the Gordie Howe International crossing for a decade. And South Dearborn, a community of mostly Yemeni population, suffers with asthma rates  and heart disease from industrial contamination.

The three distinct communities have one thing in common, illness from the burdens of industrial pollution and the imbalance of power under multi-billion dollar corporations. These communities got together on October 30th to building capacity of grassroots leaders who live in the community, share the intimate knowledge of the social networks, and enhancing collaborative leadership by pushing back against historically segregated social paradigms, building trust and culturally appropriate methods to engage in communities of different ethnic background. And most importantly  increasing the knowledge and capacity of actual residents within fence-line communities, breaking those boundaries down, increasing civic engagement, and providing clear leadership and advocacy pathways for people to engage together.

The event featured Dearborn high school youth from the Environmental Health Research to Action academy, a UM-Dearborn initiative to engage youth on air quality issues in Dearborn who gave a presentation on air pollution sources and health associated health risks. South West Detroit youth, under the Radical Productions collective of Grace in Action, shared with the community the mobile app they created to track and report idling trucks. The event also featured long time environmental justice activists from Detroit and Dearborn.

Rhonda Anderson, the regional organizer for Sierra Club, Michigan chapter talked about the need for a collective collaborative effort to create change. Theresa Landrum, 48217 community activist,  gave a poster presentation on the historical expansion of Marathon Oil Refinery. Adel Mozip, Dearborn Environmental Justice activist and at-large community organizer shared with the audience the state of the environment in South Dearborn and the history behind the large industrial presence along the Rouge River, as he also shared ways for people to be actively involved by being informed about air quality, sharing information and reporting to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Simone Sagovac, the director of Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, which is the coalition formed to oversight the community benefits as a results from building the Gordie Howe International Bridge. Sagovac, talked about the long fight of the community to receive air monitoring stations to monitor the diesel emissions produced by the trucks that will travel along the Howe Bridge. Also, the Dearborn Multi-modal Transportation plan team represented by Dearborn city planner, Jeffrey Polkowski. Mr. Polkowski, shared with the community the city master plan for creating safe routes and asked for the South Dearborn community to participate in giving input on the plan and how can the plan best address their transportation safety whether  driving, walking, or biking.