Paving The Way By Picking Up

Environmental and Social Justice Committees Organize Trash Pick Up

Students pose outside of the Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church after the Social Justice and Envi- ronmental Committee trash pick up in Washington Park.

Photo credit: Yaleigh Harris

Students pose outside of the Greater Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church after the Social Justice and Envi- ronmental Committee trash pick up in Washington Park.

On November 16, 16 students went to Washington Park for a trash pick-up hosted by the Social Justice Committee and Environmental Committee.

“In Chicago, Black and Latinx residents are more likely to live close to industrial pollution and have chronic health conditions, such as asthma,” an email from the Social Justice Committee said. 

“It was very important that the event was student-led,” faculty advisor Susan Elliott said. “These student-led events are super important to Parker’s progressive education.” The event was run by Social Justice Committee head senior Yaleigh Harris and Environmental Committee heads Ava Utigard, Sophia Brown, Phoebe Friedman, and Leilani Kulkarni. They did all the planning, marketing, sign-ups and everything else to coordinate the event. 

The two committees decided to partner with the organization, Paving the Way, a non-profit, community-based outreach program for violence prevention and intervention. The organization also helps different communities with certain events and programs. Harris’s father, Mosea Harris, is on the board of Paving the Way, which is how the two committees were able to partner with the organization. 

“​​Paving the Way provided the guidance and organization needed to do the trash pick-up,” Harris said.“I reached out to the Environmental Committee and asked if they wanted to co-host the trash pick-up event together since the themes of Environmental and Social Justice intersect and they were all hands in,” Harris said. The heads of the Environmental Committee all agreed to the event. 

“I think this was an important event for Parker because it raises awareness for environmental justice, which is something not talked about enough at Parker and in general,” senior Leilani Kulkarni said. Both committees have similar themes and problems that they face. Kulkarni mentioned how interconnected climate change and sustainability are with every other sphere of society and social change. “We wanted to draw attention to the problem of the disparity of environmental issues — trash on the streets, access to clean water, food deserts, etcetera — throughout different neighborhoods in Chicago.”

“I think that it’s really important that these two committees worked together on this,” Elliott said. Both committees are a part of student government, but they both act as clubs. The Environmental Committee hosts bi-weekly meetings for the student body on Fridays during lunch. “It shows how important student government is and how it is starting to address important issues in today’s world.”

“The event was a huge success in my opinion,” Harris said. The 16 students who attended picked up ten trash bags full of litter. Both Harris and Kulkarni admired the success of the event, and both believe that the trash pick-up was just one small step in the right direction. “Although there is much more work to be done in fighting Environmental injustices, every step matters.”

“I would love for this to become an annual event — we loved working with Paving the Way,” Kulkarni said on behalf of the Environmental Committee. They plan on expanding their outreach and having more events in the future. “We hopefully want to have some sort of holiday drive where people can donate second hand items, and we are also working on creating a program where you recycle cans for money which goes to an environmental charity.”

“I believe that those points most concisely summarize the main concerns that stem from environmental racism and classism,” Harris said. She made it clear that the trash pick-up wasn’t just about trash, but a variety of important issues. Those issues include climate change, pollution, and other environmental issues impacting different communities. “When reflecting I noticed how the themes and topics of Environmental and Social Justice gravely intersect as communities that are predominately people of color or low-income are affected the most harshly.”

“We all felt accomplished and proud of our work,” Harris said. According to the two committees, this event didn’t just pick up 10 liters of trash in Washington Park, but it highlighted many issues in today’s social and environmental culture. “This theme is one that I believe our school community should definitely be having conversations about.”