Latinx ‘promotores’ lead the way for environmental action

Reposted with permission from the Bay Journal

Latinx ‘promotores’ lead the way for environmental action

Program has trained more than 100 residents to become advocates for their communities

By Jeremy Cox : September 15, 2020

Candida Garcia had never been involved in environmental causes. But over the past four years, she has founded a community garden, grilled local officials about air quality, campaigned for statewide bans on plastic bags and straws and successfully lobbied her county to purchase electric school buses.

Candida Garcia and students from Rosa Parks Elementary School in Prince George’s County, MD, teamed up to create the school’s community garden.

Garcia chalks up her transformation to a leadership program tailored to a demographic that the White-dominated environmental movement has historically overlooked: the Latinx community.

Including Garcia’s inaugural class of 2016, Chispa Maryland has produced more than 100 graduates from its Promotores program. Over the course of six to eight weekly classes, they are given the basics of environmental justice, advocacy and community organizing — with the hope of creating a generation of grassroots “promoters.”

Garcia and her fellow promotores are finding that their work has never been more difficult or urgent. During one of the most imperative moments in its short history, the program may be the prototype that shows green groups in the Chesapeake Bay region and elsewhere how to diversify their membership, said Ramon Palencia-Calvo, director of Maryland’s Chispa.

“I think there’s an understanding among environmental groups that we need to expand our reach beyond the typical audience — the White middle-class person who has disposable time and income to volunteer for an environmental cause,” he said. “We want to create a movement that represents the entire population of Maryland.”

Nearly 90% of leadership positions in environmental groups nationwide were held by White people as of 2014, according to a widely cited study. Hispanics and Latinos occupied fewer than 3% of those positions.

Due to racist housing policies, their communities, though, tend to bear more environmental burdens, suffering from poorer air quality, greater impacts from climate change and more toxic contamination.

Candida Garcia works at the Rosa Parks Elementary School community garden, which science teachers have used as a living classroom.

“In order to make real change, we needed to build power in those communities that are overburdened by pollution and are underserved,” Palencia-Calvo said.

Chispa, meaning “spark” in Spanish, was created by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters in 2014. It was the fourth state-based LCV organization to have its own Latinx-geared program after New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. LCV affiliates in Connecticut and Nevada launched programs the following year, bringing the total to six nationwide.

Palencia-Calvo, a former fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, has been overseeing the Maryland program from its earliest days. He never worried about finding a receptive audience. Polls routinely show that Hispanics are concerned about global warming and are apt to believe it is caused by humans. They also show a strong commitment to a host of other environmental issues.

So, he and his team started knocking on doors, beginning in Langley Park in Prince George’s County. About three-quarters of the community’s nearly 20,000 residents are Hispanic. Their housing is often plagued by mold and lead-based paint. The outdoors offers little reprieve because the air is fouled by the area’s heavy traffic.

Four years later, about 30 of Chispa’s promotores reside in the densely populated nook just inside the northeastern corner of the District of Columbia’s Capital Beltway. Garcia was one of the first.

Speaking in Spanish with Palencia-Calvo acting as a translator, she said concerns about the health of her four children triggered her interest in the environment. Could one of her son’s severe asthma attacks be linked to bad air quality or her aging home? How could she find out if her drinking water was safe?

She and other Chispa participants gathered with their families in the evenings at the local community center. Childcare wasn’t a problem because Chispa had educational activities waiting for them. Everyone brought a dish to share.

Chispa staff conducted most of the training, but some sessions featured experts from other environmental groups. After 40 hours of training — the total has since been shortened to 24 hours — Garcia received her graduation certificate. She swelled with pride. “Muy feliz” (very happy) is how she describes the feeling today.

Then, Garcia got to work. With financial support from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, she organized a community garden at Rosa Parks Elementary in Hyattsville. It was designed as a “therapy space,” where families could enjoy a rare opportunity to be together, she said. They grew tomatoes, peppers and other staples, which were distributed among some of the school’s low-income families. For the science teachers, it became a living classroom.

Because of the pandemic, the garden was left fallow this year, but Garcia’s other efforts continue to bear fruit. In 2017, Chispa Maryland launched a “Clean Buses for Healthy Ninos” campaign, seeking to steer some of the state’s $75 million Volkswagen settlement money toward zero-emission, electric school buses. Garcia was on the campaign’s front lines, writing a blog post and talking to elected officials.

Last September, the Maryland Department of the Environment invested $2.5 million of that funding in an electric– and propane-bus pilot program in four counties, including Prince George’s.

The Promotores classes have been put on hold this year because of the pandemic, but Chispa leaders hope to restart the program once it’s safe for groups to gather again.

This year’s seemingly unending battle with COVID-19 has plunged Garcia and Palencia-Calvo into territory that would be unfamiliar for many green-focused groups. Garcia, a board member with the Langley Park Civic Association, partnered with Chispa to apply for a grant from LCV’s COVID-19 fund. The association was awarded $20,000, which will be disbursed to families who have suffered financially because of the pandemic. Chispa and the civic association collected an additional $15,000 through community fundraising efforts.

The community has given much to the green movement over the years. Now, it’s time to give back, Garcia said.

“Environmentalism is about the health of the families and the people that we love,” she said.

By |2020-09-23T09:58:31-04:00September 23rd, 2020|Categories: CHISPA, Media|Tags: , , |0 Comments

Langley Park Civic Association Receives $20,000 Grant from League of Conservation Voters for COVID-19 Community Efforts

Langley Park Civic Association Receives $20,000 Grant from League of Conservation Voters for COVID-19 Community Efforts 

Funds will support Langley Park residents who have been disproportionately harmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Annapolis, MD – The Langley Park Civic Association, a nonprofit Latinx led organization that serves individuals residing in Langley Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland has been awarded $20,000 by the League of Conservation Voters to bolster the Association’s COVID-19 relief efforts. Upwards of 80% of community residents are Latino.

“This grant from the League of Conservation Voters will provide a great relief to these families so that they are not left behind, and it will also help our community to move forward together,” said  Cándida Garcia, a board member of the Langley Park Civic Association. “The Civic Association will use these funds to provide direct financial relief to immigrant families that are experiencing hardships related to COVID-19 and increase the capacity of the Langley Park Civic Association to better assist residents of this community during the pandemic and beyond.”

The Langley Park community is a longtime partner of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. The Maryland LCV Ed Fund — through its Chispa Maryland program, and in partnership with community leaders, community members and the Langley park Civic Association — has delivered environmental education workshops, advocacy opportunities and leadership training that has produced  over  30 Environmental Justice and Action “Promotores” (advocacy leaders) from this community. 

“These Promotores and leaders have become the heart and soul of the Chispa Maryland program, and this community has been a key ally in advancing environmental legislation and policies that incorporate environmental justice in Maryland,” said Chispa Maryland Program Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo. “With many community members experiencing income loss due to lay-offs or significant reduction of work hours, and many unable to access federal assistance programs, we consider continued support for the community to be an urgent priority.”

Last May, Maryland LCV Education Fund and Chispa Maryland partnered with the Langley Park Civic Association to also assist its immigrant residents during the coronavirus pandemic. Jointly, the two raised over $10,000 through a 10 day GoFundMe campaign to help families with emergency assistance for rent, food, medicine, and other essential items. 

“During that same May period, we applied for the $20,000 grant for the community from the national League of Conservation Voters’ COVID-19 Fund,” said Palencia-Calvo. “We are thrilled that the funds have now been awarded, because the community of Langley Park continues to experience hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.” 

Those who are interested in supporting Chispa’s COVID-19 community relief efforts should contact MD LCV at rpcalvo@mdlcv.org 

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The Maryland LCV Education Fund, a non-profit, non partisan organization, works to strengthen the Maryland environmental community by growing a base of conservation-minded voters across the state. A leading environmental organization in Annapolis, we have advocated for smart environmental policies working to make Maryland a healthy and prosperous place for families and communities. Maryland LCV Ed Fund protects public health by fighting for restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, preserving green spaces, promoting smarter growth and increasing Maryland’s investment in clean energy.

Chispa, meaning “spark” in Spanish, is a program of Maryland League of Conservation Voters Ed Fund launched in 2014. Chispa Maryland has been working to ensure that Maryland Latino families and community leaders are a powerful voice for protecting the environment, our health, and our future. Chispa works with Latino families, community groups, faith-based organizations, and legislators to identify and address unique environmental issues facing Latino communities in Maryland

By |2020-07-15T13:34:31-04:00July 15th, 2020|Categories: Media|0 Comments