Whatcom King conference linking human rights and environmental justice

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 15, 2014 

This year, the theme of the Martin Luther King Jr. Conference is "uniting for human rights and environmental justice." The conference will take place on Saturday, Jan. 18, at Whatcom Community College.

Human rights and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Whether the issue is coal exports that damage the environment and harm the way of life and livelihood of local communities or the approximately 800 million people around the globe who do not have access to safe, clean drinking water essential for their survival, human rights and environmental justice are connected. Our call as global citizens is to unite to promote the well-being of the planet and its people, today and in the future.

My understanding of this became clearer as a teenager. I advocated for civil rights in areas of housing, employment, health and education. However, not until my brother began an intergenerational urban garden program did I recognize the power of unifying human and environmental rights. The urban garden program addressed the need for fresh produce and a clean up campaign in my inner city community. It improved appreciation for the earth, and lifted the neighborhood and its residents in many ways. Teaching the community to work together to grow fresh produce was an exercise in unifying principles of human and environmental sustainability.

Community well being takes place when human rights and environmental justice are a way of life. When people decide to unite to make a difference communities change for the better. This was Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of the beloved community -- a vision where all people can share in the wealth of the planet and where racism, hunger and environmental injustice are not tolerated.

Often, it only takes one leader or a small group of leaders to get human rights and environmental justice in motion. The passing of Hlala Madiba (Nelson Mandela) gives us opportunity to reflect on great human rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Wangari Maathai or Mairead Maguire. What unites these people is the commitment to end human injustice. Using non-violent approaches and the strength of community, they addressed human rights atrocities.

Cesar Chavez addressed both human and environmental rights by advocating for the reduction of pesticides used on crops and lack of human rights for migrant farm workers. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize founded an organization focused on environmental conservation and women's rights.

These leaders beckon us to think about the 21st century. Martin Luther King Jr. warned against the evil triplets of racism, militarism and poverty. Today, to these evil three, we can add environmental injustice. The need for beloved community, active human rights efforts and leadership has never been more urgent. We have an opportunity to create a world with true

These leaders beckon us to think about the 21st century. Martin Luther King Jr. warned against the evil triplets of racism, militarism and poverty. Today, to these evil three, we can add environmental injustice. The need for beloved community, active human rights efforts and leadership has never been more urgent. We have an opportunity to create a world with true opportunity for health and well-being where everyone has freedom and democracy prevails. To make this vision a reality here or anywhere else in the world we must look at the impact of our own actions and take responsibility for our behaviors, not just blame and claim "they" hate our freedoms!

It is in the spirit of Dr. King that the Martin Luther King Jr. Conference was started 16 years ago and continues to endeavor to bring our community into a democracy where the voices of all are respected and heard. The conference annually brings together educators, community members, students and activists to share ideas and to learn together how to enact Dr. King's dream of beloved community and a world where racism, materialism, militarism and environmental injustice have been eradicated.

Everyone is welcome and needed. Please join us Jan. 18 at Whatcom Community College at Syre Center to make the dream come true!

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Karen B. McLean Dade is associate dean and Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University. Contributing to this column were Victor Nolet, professor of secondary education at WWU, and Barbara Rofkar, an instructor of international studies at WWU.

EVENT DETAILS

The 16th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Conference will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18, at Whatcom Community College's Syre Center, 237 W. Kellogg Road, Bellingham.

Lummi Council member Jay Julius' keynote address is on the conference theme, "uniting human rights and environmental justice."

Skill-building workshops facilitated by community educators and activists will follow. The workshops list is online at whatcompjc.org and whrtf.org.

The event is co-sponsored by Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, Whatcom Peace and Justice Center, the Community Food Co-op and, from Western Washington University, Woodring College of Education, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Huxley College of the Environment and Fairhaven College.

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