“You Have Choice”: A Community’s Journey to Environmental Justice – Advice Eating

CHARLESTON, SC (WAVY) – Herbert Maybank was born in a small community called Rosemont, Charleston. He no longer lives in the neighborhood, but his family still calls it home.

“Even from my childhood I can remember the proximity of the village,” he said.

Jennifer Curry also calls Rosemont at home. She has chosen to raise her family in a raised house right by the swamp. She said community members are like an extended family.

“We have many children, which is nice,” she says. “You can see them running around with each other. Definitely brother sister vibes.”

Curry and Maybank agree: Rosemont is a charming community and a wonderful place to call home. But both say it’s also a community plagued by flooding, poor drainage and systemic neglect. Community leaders like Maybank have raised quality of life issues with state-run agencies in Charleston, but they say their pleas for help have been routinely ignored.

“We try to take care of each other by struggling to be a community that has inequalities that continue,” Maybank said. “The differences, the feeling of being less than that, runs like a red thread through the community.”

There has been tangible progress in Rosemont in recent years, but it didn’t start with local government. Instead, it’s a community-driven, grassroots initiative that began with a simple invitation to an environmental justice group: The Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC).

LAMC is a nonprofit organization focused on building healthy communities and families. LAMC Executive Director Omar Muhammad said the organization strives to leverage the agency communities already in place and empower them to advocate for a seat at the table to address issues such as housing, economic development, education and environmental justice.

LAMC does not come into a community uninvited, Muhammad said.

“We’re invited because we want communities to be involved in the process,” he added

This invitation from Rosemont came in 2018 when the community board asked LAMC to help them become a more sustainable and impactful organization. The relationship started slowly as LAMC spent a lot of time listening to residents about their concerns, hopes and goals.

“They use the strengths they already have. The agency that the community has,” said Muhammad.

Together, Rosemont and LAMC have achieved a lot.

Neighborhood leaders participated in the LAMC’s Environmental Justice Academy to develop a community profile and shared vision for Rosemont’s future.

“What we found is that when communities don’t have a shared vision for their neighborhood, those neighborhoods are often taken advantage of,” Muhammad said.

Rosemont is also one of eight underserved communities across South Carolina that will participate in a new initiative called Environmental Justice (EJ) Strong. Funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, EJ Strong will enable communities to prepare for and recover from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods and pandemics.

“I think history has also shown that: we cannot rely on the government. We cannot wait for the government to respond to our emergencies,” Muhammad said.

LAMC is also working with Rosemont to develop a community-led resilience plan that addresses immediate neighborhood needs such as: B. lack of drainage and recurrent flooding. This process allows Rosemont residents to use their shared vision to find solutions they can live with. The next step is to work on those solutions with government officials like Chief Resiliency Officer Dale Morris.

Morris acknowledges that Rosemont has been neglected in a way that other neighborhoods on the Charleston Peninsula have not.

“If we don’t hear what they’re saying, we’re missing an opportunity to do something meaningful for them,” Morris said.

“LAMC provided us with this proven doorway,” he added.

An open door through which the residents of Rosemont walk cautiously.

“We come together and look for solutions and now the emergency aid available has shown up, but again our history says they come and offer and do nothing. We’re hoping for more now,” Maybank said.

“We look for success over time,” he added. “This is the beginning!”

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