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Green Dream: Majora Carter fights the good fight

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Native New Yorker Majora Carter has plenty to smile about. She’s one of the best known environmental and social justice activists in the country.·She’s a force to be reckoned with and a veritable media sensation –·a passionate, articulate tree hugger from the South Bronx.

Carter left her neighborhood after high school and matriculated at Wesleyan University. She entered New York University for graduate school, where she majored in acting and film. Desperate to save money, she moved back in with her parents in the Bronx. There is where her story has become a green movement folklore.

One day Majora Carter was walking her dog around the block and he dragged her down a trash-strewn alley. She ended up at the banks of the Bronx River – a filthy, abandoned stretch of waterfront. Carter was horrified by the filth and waste of space.

In an economically depressed neighborhood starved for greenery, the11-mile stretch of prime waterfront literally going to the dogs. She began volunteering at the Point Community Development Corporation, a non-profit dedicated to the economic revitalization·in the area. There she led a successful campaign against a proposed garbage facility that would have dumped 40 percent of New York's municipal waste the region.

In 2001 she founded Sustainable South Bronx(SSBx), a non-profit environmental justice organization. SSBx lobbied for the underserved waterfront area and eventually won a $1.25M Federal Transportation planning grant for the South Bronx Greenway, the first waterfront park for it’s community in half a century. The organization also enacted the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program - a wildly successful green worker program that specialized in training young people who were unemployed, uneducated or formerly incarcerated.

Carter became a star almost immediately. Her David and Goliath success story won her praise from her community for her trumiph in for getting the cities attention on two social movements– environmental conservation and civil rights activism.

For many African American women, especially those struggling to pay the rent and feed their dependents, the green movement can seem a little indulgent - its a collection of nice, safe issues for the privileged to rally around, but not relevant in the lives of most ‘regular’ folks. For these women who are grappling with racio-misogny, rising crime rates and financial hardships brought on by widespread single motherhood...saving the whales is at the bottom on their list of priorities.

Then along comes Carter, whose rhetoric persuadedthe skeptical to see the green movement in a new light. As she explained at Powershift, an annual youth summit she attended in 2007, “ If power plants, waste handling, chemical plants and transport systems were located in wealthy areas as quickly and easily as in poor areas, we would have had a clean, green economy decades ago." In her New York Times profile, writer Marguerite Holloway emphasized the point – “ Ms. Carter’s recognition of the link between environmental improvement and economic revitalization set the stage for her national prominence.” As clichéd as it sounds, Majora Carter was simply the right woman at the right place at the right time. Part of her breakthrough was her ability to communicate a distinct modern brand of social activism to the general public. Carter represents the new and empowered generation of activists – men and women who take a shrewd, integrated stance against complex problems like urban blight, unaffordable housing, and chronic unemployment.

Mrs. Carter is an immensely appealing image and she knows it. Her thespian training is put to good use during her public speaking tours. In her treks across the country, she lectures to packed audiences that span a wide racial and socio-economic spectrum. ·In 2008 she founded the Majora Carter Group, a for-profit consultancy that works with clients across the nation. Lately, Carter’s work includes raising awareness in the restoration of the Alton Park neighborhood in Chattanooga, Tennessee; consulting with the Make it Right foundation in the rebuilding of the historic 9th Ward district in New Orleans; and shepherding the revitalization of Hunts Point Riverside Park.

Anthony ‘Van’ Jones, another environmental superstar, once called Carter the “Rosa Parks of the green movement”. While some may call that hyperbole; others say it’s the perfect description for a woman who’s brought more media attention to the issue of urban environmental renewal than anyone since Jane Jacobs.


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