Tabor Hosts MLK Day Climate Discussion

            On January 17, Tabor Academy celebrated the themes of diversity and inclusion with daylong virtual programming that featured various aspects of climate change either directly or obliquely.

            Speakers included Marion’s own Dr. Jennifer Francis as well as graphic designer and illustrator Michael LaRiccia, hip hop poet and musician Tem Blessed, and keynote speaker Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist, policy expert and bestselling author. The program was hosted by Loraine Snead, director of Equity and Inclusion.

            The Wanderer sat in during Johnson’s hour-long interview-style discussion with Tabor students Layla Silva and Javar Williams, along with Tabor faculty members Joseph Cassaista, director of Marine Science, and Tamar Cunha, Science Department chair.

            Johnson began her comments saying that her educational path had been broad in scope, not specifically heading her into a career as a marine scientist. Upon reflection, Johnson said that she is glad her education has in fact been broad-based. “It exposed me to a wide variety of subject matter.” She said that during her high school years in Brooklyn, New York, she had never considered that it was on the coast. “I just thought of it as a concrete jungle.”

            On the subject of climate change and racially driven inequity, Johnson said, “Think about the carbon footprint of poor people and people of color, it is small.” She told of her father’s life in Jamaica and the loss of fishing opportunities due to over-harvesting. He also talked to her about the negative impact on the Jamaican ecosystems from tourism. These stories would echo through Johnson’s formative years, leaving life-long impressions that would eventually help her crystalize what path she needed to take.

            As the childhood years went by, years when Johnson would think, “maybe I’ll be a lawyer or maybe I’ll be a park ranger or maybe I’ll be a scientist,” she didn’t receive any special education in marine studies. Today she said she is really all those things she dreamed about. She marveled at the abundance of opportunity that Tabor Academy offers in this area of study and yet she also believes English is equally as important.

            When asked about Dr. Martin Luther King’s position regarding the environment, Johnson responded, “He connected poor people with black rights. There are overlapping concerns. I often think about poor communities and communities of color along the coast … we need to train the next generation, the children from those communities. We need so much diversity; it’s valuable because it does matter who is making the decisions … throw open the doors to all youth.

            “Ocean conservation is a puzzle with many parts. … It’s scary and exciting to think about harvesting all our ideas.”

            And to do that, Johnson knows it will require a diverse and inclusive group. “They can all be part of the solution – it is possible, students will shape the future.”

            One exciting project Johnson mentioned is an initiative for ocean farming. She said that when the framers of the Green New Deal were drafting that document, the ocean was almost completely left out. That inspired Johnson and others to write the Blue New Deal to address the needs of the ocean. She believes with the right set of intentions and support, ocean farming could be a reality, one that would decrease methane emissions.

            Circling back to her comments about English, Johnson told the students to write everything down. “I learned you don’t have to wait to be invited. Voice your ideas, let them get traction through writing,” she said.

            When considering diversity, Johnson said for her it is far more expansive than black and white. “Diversity includes age, color, gender, rich, poor, it’s diversity beyond race.” She said all they have to do to find out who is missing from the conservation is look around.

            When asked what Tabor and the community could do now to help fight climate change, Johnson’s response was as broad-based as her education had been – composting and bike lanes came to her mind. She also thought being involved in local politics, knowing what local leaders believe about climate change, is critical.

            “You have power, power of your voice, power of your vote, power of your money and power in your networks,” she said. And lastly, “Encourage people to vote.”

By Marilou Newell

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