Interview of the Week, Justin Onwenu, EJ Community Organizer in Detroit

This week we talked with Justin Onwenu, a Sierra Club community organizer in Detroit working on environmental justice and the COVID-19 pandemic.  Justin is a member of Michigan Governor Whitmer’s Environmental Justice Advisory Task Force and the Democratic National Committee’s Council on the Environment and Climate Crisis.  Here are some of the highlights.

On Environmental Health Crises

Detroit has also had environmental justice crises.  Water shutoffs.  The Federal government has disinvested in water infrastructure for many, many years and as a result, people have been shut out of water because they cannot afford it.

On Pollution From Detroit’s Refinery

The only refinery in the state of Michigan is located in the city of Detroit.  A refinery that is surrounded by dozens of other heavily polluting industries. And I see first hand working with residents every day, the number of folks on a single block that has asthma and cancer is just off the charts.  One of the things I have been working on with residents is getting the oil company to commit to better protect community health by paying for things like air filtration systems in nearby schools.

Advice for Getting Involved in EJ Issues

It is important for folks to realize how connected environmental and environmental justice issues are to all the other issues that we care about…I think getting involved in great organizations and just connecting all the dots with issues that are a priority.

On Being Part of the Democratic Party Platform Committee

I was ecstatic to be able to participate…we included in our recommendations things like investing in vulnerable communities directly.

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