By Kelly Camacho
In eighth grade, after years of being bused out of my East Side neighborhood to a more prestigious charter school in Buffalo, I did something my teachers and parents hoped for, but realistically never thought would happen. I took the City Honors entrance test and earned a seat at the school.
I started as a freshman, proud I had an opportunity people rarely get. Or should I say, people like me rarely get. In a school where the majority of my classmates were white and upper middle class, other students told me I was only there to fill gender and race quotas.
These comments hit hard when we were all on track to graduate, and despite four years together as a part of the same school community I was still just a token Latina to them.
From there I went to the University at Buffalo, as an environmental studies major. I studied birds, plants and air that didn’t smell like the Kensington Expressway. During my studies, I realized that all the problems I experienced growing up were linked to the environment.
In our society, money is power and poor communities of color are the target for pollution because we lack the power to fight back.
This year people across the globe are stuck inside to keep us from getting Covid-19. The highest rates of Covid-19 are found in communities like the 14215 ZIP code, the one where I live, which is predominantly people of color, low-income households and essential service workers on the front lines of this crisis.
During this crisis I got lucky. I accepted a position as the climate justice organizer for PUSH Buffalo. While so many people are unemployed, I have a safe job where I can work from home.
Working from home means using my education to explain to Buffalo’s communities that all the things we are experiencing from Covid-19 are just a trial version of what’s to come if we don’t take active measures to combat climate change.
While the rich and powerful can afford to pretend climate change is a hoax, we cannot. Climate and economic catastrophe on a scale we’re witnessing now could easily happen.
There will be more illnesses, supply shortages, layoffs and deaths. In 2019, PUSH Buffalo and the NY Renews coalition worked hard to get the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act passed, but the work doesn’t stop there.
Buffalo, we have to come together to continue to demand a regenerative economy. We need solutions that can lift us out of this crisis while also halting the climate crisis and protecting our most vulnerable communities.
Fifty years after the first Earth Day, our economy still exploits the planet, and we can’t exploit the planet without exploiting ourselves.
Kelly Camacho is PUSH Buffalo’s climate justice organizer.