Saturday, September 25, 2010

Urban Adventures and Environmental Injustice

The following is a guest post from my friend, Tracey Bianchi. Tracey is a pastor and the author of Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan, 2010). I have the joy of joining her each month as part of the Redbud Writers Guild, a writing community of women’s voices that engage our world. You can catch her musings and information about her book at here.

I called Colorado home for a few blissful years. A native of Chicago and the Prairie State my little soul came to life as a graduate student in the Rocky Mountains. My classmates and I were a devoted tribe of skiers who would study Greek and Hebrew words en route to a ski resort, mostly broke we would skip a meal or two in order to scrape together the cash for a lift ticket or season pass.

I once took a ten day course that was designed to open my eyes to the complexities of urban poverty. We spent each night in a shabby hostel on the corner of a intersection where white skiing types like myself did not spend much time. We visited correctional centers, dined with the homeless at nearby shelters and enjoyed hours of lectures by community leaders seeking to bring peace, reconciliation and hope to the most beleaguered citizens of Denver.

One afternoon a local pastor stepped up to chat with us, the fleece and hiking boot crowd who sipped from high end water bottles and chattered away about recent hiking adventures as we waited for our session to begin. Behind his podium was a huge glass window offering a sun-drenched view of the Rockies.

He began by fanning his arm toward the window, remarking that indeed, it was a gorgeous day up in the mountains. We nodded, several of us letting our minds slip to a desire to be up in the hills rather than in a lecture. Then this pastor captured our attention quickly. He asked, “did you know that most of the children in this neighborhood have never been to the mountains?”

The foothills would take less than one hour to reach, the resort destination of Breckenridge barely two hours.

“They look every day at those peaks yet have never stepped foot into a mountain stream or experienced the joy of hiking in the backcountry.”

I was stunned. I looked around at the motley crew of seminary students assembled for this lecture. We were shabby and broke but for most of us this was a choice. We made a decision to pay tuition over a mortgage and even on our worst days could scrape by enough cash to cover gas and hiking boots.

To be a child living below the poverty line in Denver, to look upon those mountains each day yet never take them in, was ludicrous to me.

Eight years later I find myself championing the cause of our environment from Chicago. I urge my fellow urbanites to walk when they can, shop smarter, compost, recycle and such. But my mind still settles on that room filled with yuppie hikers and an urban pastor. What is the point in saving this planet if the very people who inhabit it cannot all enjoy its bounty?

Environmental injustice runs deep in our culture. The poor find themselves on the losing end of multiple transactions. First, they unfairly receive waste, landfills and serve as toxic receptacles since many communities lack the funding and education to fight these initiatives.

Second, the poor rarely get to relish in what is good and beautiful about this planet. To live in Denver yet never set foot in the mountains is a grave injustice. Millions of visitors from across this nation and the world fly into Denver’s International Airport every year. They drive through these neighborhoods, past children who are native to Colorado, and these tourists experience a Rocky Mountain High while the very children who stare at that vast space each day do not know the first thing about John Denver.

As we engage in conversations about urban poverty let us do our best to be sure we get children out of their urban settings on occasion. Let us fund initiatives that take children to summer camp, the mountains, the beaches or wherever it is that those with more income dash off to for peace and rest. Even if it means planting a patch of wildflowers in a local park. Moving urban children toward wilderness experiences is to treat their lives with justice and fairness, it is to bring their hearts a glimpse of the wild, vast expanses of God’s world. It is only seems fair to share the planet.

1 comment:

Emily said...

On my first day as a substitute teacher at Marshall Metro High School (as a fresh graduate from Wheaton college and a life long suburbanite) I asked the students where they went on summer vacation.

Lots of blank stares, and a few smirks, and one student who visited his grandma in Mississippi. I quickly learned that most students never left the neighborhood.