Miami, like most cities in the south, has a history of segregation. During this time there were “Colored Only” beaches like Virginia Key, which at the time had no bridge connecting it to Miami and was known for having strong currents that was a danger for those who weren’t strong swimmers. However, desegregation occurred in the 1960s. Has Miami changed? And if not, what are the causes and implications for this differential access to the environment and other resources?
This issue of connection and access becomes particularly important once we take into account Miami’s future: climate change and sea level rise. Miami needs political leaders and large-scale plans to prepare for this, thus everyone needs to be on board. That includes the African American population, which has been separated from the ocean and the larger Floridian environment for centuries. Guest panelists Julie Hollenbeck and Billy Hall set the foundation Thursday February 26th, 2015 for an enriching discussion on the intersection of race, history, culture, politics, and the environment in Miami.
We kicked off the science café with Julie Hollenbeck, Researcher at Sea To Me and Associate Director of the Master of Professional Science Program at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Atmospheric Science. Julie shared her research on how residents of Liberty City, a historically African American neighborhood in Miami, relate to the ocean. Julie let us know that even though Blacks make up 19% of Miami’s population, they account for only 1% of reef-users. This is particularly an issue when discussing public health. The ocean can be a source of therapy for a person and not having access to it causes conservation and health issues in the community. Factors like fears of the water passed on through generations and transportation access have been obstacles for this community to connect with the ocean. Julie uncovered that many residents in Liberty City learn about the ocean through Shark Week, which is concerning since the Discovery Channel has recently been accused of including dangerous pseudoscience into their programming.
Billy Hall, Doctoral Candidate for the Florida International University’s Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, shared his research on food deserts in Overtown another historically black community in Miami. Billy provided a historic overview of this issue. He showed the during segregation Overtown had many black-owned grocery stores and that it wasn’t until the creation of highway I-95 post-segregation that those grocery stores closed. He pointed out that Black people in Overtown didn’t forget how to eat healthy and shop on a budget. Many community organizations take that route, however that doesn’t honor the history and culture in Overtown. He also pointed out that there is a Publix grocery store only two blocks outside of Overtown, so proximity to a grocery store isn’t the problem either. Currently if people are caught crossing the railroad tracks to get to Publix, they will be arrested. Billy also made a last point that wooing grocery stores to come to Overtown may actually pave the way for further gentrification, which will further weaken this community.
In a study done by the Yale Project on Climate Change, they identified Six Americas, which are perspectives towards climate change. The disengaged population tended to be minorities. Preparing Miami for the changes that will come over the next century is a huge task. Taking every community’s needs into account as well as ensuring everyone is on board, is needed for progress. The African American community in Miami has had a very different history than other communities, and thus has different concerns and needs. Everyone has to be engaged in order for solutions to be found and implemented.
If you weren’t able to make it out to this event and want to find out what was discussed, check out the storified twitter-convo.
If you’d like more information on Julie Hollenbeck and her research on how residents of Liberty City connect with the ocean, check out Sea To Me.
If you’d like more information Billy Hall, check out his blog on geography, food, and Miami What’s Eating Miami.
For more science café events, follow COSEE Florida on Twitter @COSEEFlorida, on Instagram @COSEEFlorida, or on Facebook at COSEE Florida. Or search #COSEEMIA on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook for events in Miami.
Stay tuned for details on the next COSEE Florida #COSEEMIA science café coming March 24th 2015!