How did you find out about the contest?
I attended the March 2005 talk and book-signing by Wangari Maathai
sponsored by Lantern Books at Cooper Union with colleagues, friends, and supporters from Greening for Breathing and Sustainable South Bronx. Pat De Angelis, of Cooper Union, and one of our strong supporters, later heard about the essay contest and insisted that we enter something about Greening for Breathing, because of our parallels to Wangari Maathai’s work, and as a way to raise money for the organization. I promised her and couldn’t go back on my word. Donations of any amount are greatly appreciated.
Why was the subject of your essay important to you?
I am blessed to work daily with and for the people of the Hunts Point, South Bronx neighborhood in New York City, as a part of Greening for Breathing. And, as deeply important as I feel that all our work is on a physical level, transforming the landscape to improve people’s health, I am as impressed by the way our work changes people and how it has changed me. Participation feels like the ultimate form of empowerment, and no more so than when people see the effects in their daily lives.
Did you discover something surprising in the process of writing your essay?
Writing isn’t torture once you force yourself to sit down and do it. No, seriously, the entire essay was a surprise since I didn’t plan or outline it, I just let it unfold. It was affirming to be reminded that there is a strong internal logic to what we do and how it’s all connected, in spite of sometimes feeling like we’re being pulled in a million different directions with all that we have to do.
What do you hope people will take away or learn from your essay?
On one level I hope to sensitize people who may be unfamiliar with environmental justice or even just open people’s eyes to the fact that our unsustainable environmental practices don’t punish us all equally in the short run. If you don’t care about the environment, which for the longest time I never did, perhaps you care about human and civil rights issues, and exploring those linkages is crucial. By the way, if justice isn’t a big motivator for you, or you’re privileged enough not to have to worry, perhaps what will move you is the fact that the health crises that we’re seeing in low income communities of color are a warning sign for what’s coming down the pike for everyone. On another level I hope to inspire people to think about the ways that they feel powerless in their own lives, question whether that’s a given, and consider what embarking on the transformative path of empowerment in whatever form might mean for them.
What advice would you offer to other writers on composing a successful essay?
If someone asks you to enter a contest, keep your promise! Write about what you know and care deeply about and let go of trying to make it perfect.
can be reached at: Sustainable South Bronx, 890 Garrison?Avenue, 4th Floor, Bronx, NY 10474. Tel: (718) 617-4668; Fax: (718) 617-5228. Or you can email her at email@example.com. You can find out more about Greening for Breathing by clicking here
Read Elena Conte's winning essay.