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Clean Air Ambassador: Karen Monahan

Our health is not for sale. It is a human right that every child, parent, grandparent has the right to clean air, safe water, healthy food and an overall nurturing environment.

My son and many of the local neighborhood kids have asthma and other health related issues due to the environment they have lived in.

I was never informed about the effects the environment could have on one's health. We lived in apartments, and my kid's playground was the parking lot where cars idled, which also happened to be right next to the highway. It wasn't that I didn't care about my kids. I just didn't know the effects it could have on them. I thought I was doing well by taking them outside, getting them away from the TV and exercising. I didn't have a car at that time and there was no public transit to commute to a nice park with lots of greenery. It was a Catch-22: keep them inside or pollute their lungs.

I was in school with the hopes and dreams of becoming a school teacher at some point. I wanted to teach in the inner-city and I wanted to learn about the community that I would be teaching in, so I took a class about development in the inner city. Congressman Keith Ellison, who was a state representative at the time, spoke to the class about environmental justice issues. He discussed lead, mercury and other contaminants I had never heard of. I asked how they affected kids and their learning. I wanted to know and understand more and that is when I began volunteering with a group called Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota.

I feel we leave so many folks out of the conversation because they just don't know how air pollution affects them. We speak in a language that is often technical and leaves folks feeling inadequate to be at the table. But folks can understand asthma, cancer, health care, education, etc.

To save lives, we must connect in an authentic way and meet folks where they are. Our health is not for sale. It is a human right that every child, parent, grandparent has the right to clean air, safe water, healthy food and an overall nurturing environment.
What would Dr. King say about the assault on our health by dirty polluters and bought- off lawmakers? I think he would be on the front lines with us singing "We shall overcome." Dr. King never said "I have a complaint." He said "I have a dream."

It is time for us to dream big! Together we can change the world.
 

Ambassador Group Affiliation: 
Sierra Club
Ambassador Profession: 
Environmental Justice Organizer