Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself and where you are from?
I am a lifelong resident of West Michigan born in Kalamazoo, MI. I focus on creating transformational change in BIPOC communities centering residents in the urban core that have historically been disproportionately impacted by systemic and unjust practices. I am a Civil Rights activist, community advocate and grass roots organizer. I am an Environmental Climate Justice leader In West Michigan currently serving in a number of roles including Environmental Justice Chair for the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP, Co-Chair of the Community Collaboration on Climate Change, and a Member of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. I am dedicated to making sure that black and brown communities are at the forefront of the careers and entrepreneurial resources that will be available as we transition to renewable energy.
Can you tell us about the work that you do?
I am a boots on the ground advocate that helps uplift community voices to ensure that those who are involved with creating the EJ solutions are aware and informed about how environmental and Climate change is affecting BIPOC and under-resourced communities. We do this through intentional and authentic community engagement working to convene community members and ECJ organizations to educate and increase the awareness of these issues and help influence policy change, and be a resource broker for communities that have been left behind. It is imperative that we intentionally prioritize BIPOC when it comes to the economic opportunities that are in the pipeline as we transition away from fossil fuels and shift to clean energy.
Now, let’s jump into some talk about environmental justice! What does environmental justice mean to you?
Environmental Justice is something that I take very personal having grown up on the Northside of Kalamazoo and Battle Creek. The communities that I grew up in were directly impacted by environmental hazards. Growing up in Kalamazoo, many of my friends and family members suffered from health conditions like asthma, adhd, and high blood pressure. Historically we have always been told that these health conditions are hereditary. After a deeper dive we learned that many of the health conditions that disproportionately impact communities of color are a direct effect of the toxicities that exist in urban core communities.
In the communities that I grew up in where industrial facilities have placed facilities that historically pollute the air, water and soil. Communities that are in close proximity interstate and highways that in return experience low air quality and noise pollution.
Environmental Justice to me means to actively work with community members and those in positions of power to put an end to environmental racism and in the process empower those who have disproportionately impacted to be the beneficiaries of the economic opportunities that will come about in the process of righting these wrongs.
Recent studies have shown that the burden of asthma in the United States falls disproportionately on Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native people. JustAir’s mission is to work to close that gap, but what would you say to people who want to help and get involved to minimize those disparities?
I say to those people that the power is in your hands and it is imperative to show up and be unapologetic in these spaces. Also, understand that there are many different ways to be involved and really have an effective role in the movement.
When and how did you become passionate about community activism and environmental justice?
In 2019 I was invited to attend a black labor convening hosted by the National NAACP that brought together NAACP leaders, ECJ activists and representation from the labor movement to talk about the intersectionalities of our issues and how we can collectively advocate for healthier communities, healthy jobs, etc. I was blown away when I heard the stories of how black communities across the country are being intentionally targeted for the placement of toxic industries . I learned about Cancer Alley in Louisiana where black and poor residents are literally dying at alarming rates from cancer due to environmental racism. I learned about how lack of green space and low tree density in black communities often leads to lower home values and terrible air quality. I left the convening furious but also motivated and inspired to bring more education and awareness.
Who has inspired you throughout your career?
Many people inspire me in this ECJ work including Dr. Robert Bullard, Dr. Beverly Wright, Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr, and Jeremy Orr. President Cle Jackson of the Greater Grand Rapids NAACP has been one of my biggest mentors. He has empowered me to take a leadership role in the community as an activist and a catalyst for transformation change.
I read that you are passionate about economic sustainability - where could our readers get information on educational opportunities related to economic sustainability?
I would recommend people check out the Southtown CID on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/southtowncid/ and the website at https://southtowngr.com/ also check out Black Wall Street Grand Rapids at https://www.facebook.com/BlackwallstreetGrandRapids/ and Project Green at https://projectgreengr.org/ and on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ProjectGREENGR/.
Could you tell us where our visitors could follow you or get updates from you?
You can stay in touch with me by following me on all of my social media profiles on facebook at Kareem Scales, instagram @scalesk. I have my own consulting company called Scales Consulting LLC and my website will be up soon so stay tuned. I also serve as the Co-Chair of the Community Collaboration on Climate Change and I encourage you to check out c4collaboration.org as well as I am a member of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (MEJC) and Michigan Alliance for Justice in Climate (MAJIC) at https://www.michiganej.org/projects/majic.