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VP Joel Alvarado talks climate change, culture, and community

by Ezekiel J. Walker
VP Joel Alvarado talks climate change, culture, and community
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It is “qualitatively and quantitatively true” that climate change disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities, says Joel Alvarado of Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE).

As Vice President of Strategy and Engagement with PSE, Alvarado talked with The Black Wall Street Times about initiatives taking place to address the increasingly frequent and community destroyer that is climate change.

Alvarado explains policies have long been on the books to debilitate already marginalized communities, “We’ve seen it historically, decisions are made to the detriment of Black and Brown people. Forced labor through child slavery, denying us full citizenship rights and now, and today our environments work against us.”

He continued, “The physical and emotional harm that polluting and destructing of our environment plays out in many ways: there’s a reason why asthma is higher in our communities, there’s a reason why Flint had brown water, there’s a reason why these torrential hurricanes affect our communities more. Somebody’s making decisions that lead to these outcomes. We need new policies, new practices and programming, along with vigorous investment to disturb the status quo.”

Based in Atlanta, Partnership for Southern Equity is a nonprofit organization that advances policies and institutional actions that promote racial equity and shared prosperity for all in the growth of metropolitan Atlanta and the American South. They utilize forums, research, and organizing efforts to bring together the regional community while encouraging just, sustainable, and civic practices for balanced growth and opportunity.

Asked about how local communities can help address their own climate change, Alvarado responded, “We work toward solutions and provide people with the tools they need to determine how best to solve the issue themselves, we believe those who are closest to the problem are the ones who have the genius to determine their best outcomes.”

A son of a Puerto Rican working-class parents, Alvarado says he’s “always had a service heart. I’ve always wanted to use whatever talents God gave me to the benefit other people who look like me. That’s been my whole career.”

With the slogan “Together We Prosper”, PSE describes its methodology in part, “The reality is there are groups that have much more support systems and resources that enable their success while others are forced to rely on more uncertain circumstances in under-resourced communities. PSE stands to address these inequities in our communities so prosperity can be created and shared by all.”

They do this by collaborating with organizations such as Justice40 Accelerator, which describes its vision as “anchored in love, service, and a sincere commitment to frontline communities. The Justice40 Accelerator seeks to radically reimagine the existing government resource delivery system as a restorative and reparative framework that better supports Black and historically disinvested communities of color.”

Alvarado also touts PSE’s alliance with Metro Atlanta Racial Equity Atlas, which is designed to offer an immersive, story-centric experience that contextualizes personal narratives with engaging, interactive community data and historical background.

“One of the things we try to work on is positioning Black and Brown people to realize their power, cultivate their agency, and utilize that power in a very strategic and meaningful way in order to get the outcome they’re looking for that will advance their quality of life,” says Alvarado.

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Alvarado describes “the change in my community is not so much about environmental change but gentrification. The people who live in that community now are very much different than who lived there only 40 yearsa go. You start to ask yourself, ‘where are the people who lived there before? How did they go from living in the heart of Brooklyn, New York, to not being able to afford to live in the city period? How does that displacement affect their quality of life?’ The normalcy that they’ve built was disrupted. When you separate people from the land, you’re separating a major part of the culture which derived there.”

While acknowledging race historically and presently plays a major factor in climate change and housing, Alvarado furthers that commercial interest remains a driving force as well. He explains, “There are many in power who have the decision-making authority to determine outcomes and realities for people and are influenced by actors that believe a certain decision is in their best interest. Whether it be a company, individual, or sector – we have to counter that. We have to pool our power together.”

After turning 50, Alvarado says he knew it was time to make his passion his purpose and works each day to bring equity for all. He remarked, “I’m happy I get to wake up in the morning every day and know I’m doing something I feel proud of.”

Check out more of the work Alvarado is doing and learn more at psequity.org.

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