Honoring Vision with Action on MLK Day
by Guest Blogger on Wednesday, January 26, 2022
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Christmas Sermon of 1967
On Monday, January 17, Central College students, staff, and faculty celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day with education and service. One of the academic seminars I attended was on environmental justice, a term new to many attendees. The discussion was focused on the opening quote from Dr. King: how do environmental inequities across the globe affect our lives, even in our small community of Pella? How can we make an difference on environmental issues impacting the most vulnerable?
Answers were narrowed down at the service opportunity, instructed by Raihan Rashidi of the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC). Students and a few faculty members briefly learned about Iowa’s water quality issues, especially lead pipes and Iowa's aging drinking water infrastructure. Rural communities and historically disadvantaged communities are especially at risk, and they often lack the resources to tackle costly maintenance and upgrades. We were then encouraged to write legislators about addressing these inequities and asking them to prioritize these at-risk communities with state and federal infrastructure dollars.
During the advocacy training, Raihan helped us structure our letters alongside Peggy Fitch of Central College and RESULTS. While developing our personal stories for the letters, an attendee noted how Pella, an affluent city, has had great investments in water quality projects. However, one of the participants who lives right at the border of the city is still affected by contaminated water at home and their family opts to purchasing bottled water. This highlighted a disconnect between populated areas and less populated ones, even within the same city.
Letter writing isn’t a new concept to our campus; students, including myself, have helped small groups write Congressional members about specific issues. IEC Executive Director Dr. Brian Campbell was on campus just last semester to lead a service project focused on best practices for advocacy with 20 students and faculty. As a student leader on campus, I know it can be hard to mobilize young folks focused on paying tuition and passing classes, not often jumping into social or political movements without incentive. What qualifies us to contribute, anyway? We don’t have degrees yet.
Luckily, we’re frequently reminded that we do not exist solely in the small bubble of Pella, and no issue stands in a vacuum. We spent MLK Day talking primarily about race-related issues as they exist on our campus, in our social and academic experiences. However, writing with IEC was a reminder that just because we, on a small private college campus in central Iowa, may not be directly experiencing consequences of things like water pollution or landfill management doesn’t mean other people aren’t. Some of us are already experiencing these injustices, but in the end, today's youth will have to face the consequences of today’s inaction. Something as seemingly small as writing a letter to a legislator is a step towards improving the lives of all in the present and future.
Using our voice to shed light on such disparities in hopes to alleviate burdens of the underserved is what Dr. King fought for. We should all be an advocate by taking action on issues surrounding justice.
About the Author
Leighia VanDam is a senior studying psychology and international studies at Central College in Pella. On campus, she serves as a Campus Ambassador for Defend Our Future, a project of the Environmental Defense Fund. After Central, she intends on continuing work that serves to uphold human rights.
- clean water
- drinking water
- environmental justice
- public health