Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run 2022 Recap

Joycelyn after winning 2nd place in her age division

This year’s Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run is in the books, and a great time was had by everyone – especially the winners!

Clotilda Descendants Association and Africatown~CHESS organizer Joycelyn Davis came in second place in her division!

Joycelyn said that her success in this 5K is a testament to her determination to regain what her battles with cancer threatened to take away. How her personal story connects the fights against cancer and environmental racism in Africatown will be featured in the forthcoming award-winning documentary Descendant by Mobile-born Margaret Brown, set to release worldwide this fall on Netflix under the Obamas’ production banner.

Along with plenty of representation from Africatown community groups like the Africatown CDC, which hosted the event, some of the runners taking part in this weekend’s annual Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run dedicated their run over the Mobile River to raising awareness about its status as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers.

The two elders Lewis daughters with their metals standing with MLB legend and Africatown resident Cleon Jones.

Chief Jason Lewis and his family are no outsiders to Africatown. Having grown up in the community, Jason has since returned repeatedly to the community that helped raise him as a volunteer under the guise of his celebrated Visualize Everyone That Serves (VETS) organization.

Participating as a 5K runner with his three girls, his partner, and their baby son (on wheels), his two eldest children won 1st and 2nd place in their age group. They completed the entire 5K with a passionate purpose that Jason captured in his announcement about their intentions to raise awareness ahead of the event:

by Chief Jason Lewis

Gulf Coast Family,

This indeed has been a busy time for both MEJAC and Africatown~CHESS. At a closer look, the calculated strides made by both organizations, along with the many others who have fought to maintain the humanity of our beloved community and environment, have been noteworthy.

Take a look at this picture. Looking a bit closer one would notice that it’s earthworms on a pavement; if we zoom out, we’d see the sidewalk running in between the rich soil these worms are trying to crawl to. Sadly, the sidewalk is filled worms who were inches away from not being baked in the hot sun.

The fate of our community and the surrounding rivers are no different than these worms if we don’t engage in preserving what’s left of all that we’ve been given. As the climate shifts and demands on energy surges, we have to make a concerted effort to both become knowledgeable of the risks that could devastate a rich ecosystem within our delta and the continued neglect of our underserved communities. It was in the cool of the morning when I saw these worms making their way across the sidewalk, but the pace at which they were moving couldn’t outrun the pending doom of Alabama Heat that would soon cut their journey short.

Just days before, I took my daughters to the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center to the monthly Sierra Club Mobile Bay Group presentation, and we watched the American Rivers documentary about their 2022 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. It was disheartening to see the Mobile River and the Coosa River, two rivers from here in Alabama, at risk. I gazed into their hope filled eyes as they saw the unique birds, turtles, amphibious, and plant life that they could access at any time near their homes. For the first time, I had to damper their spirits and explain the miscalculations our generation is making that they may have to fix. I had to make them aware of both climate change and poverty. I wondered how daunting the goal of preserving our environment was to them, both as they learned about the risks these beloved rivers face and the harsh truth of how some of our family members are living as they fish and crab from the same waters.

Jason and his daughters just after watching the American Rivers Most Endangers Rivers documentary, with organizers from MEJAC, Sierra Club, Gulf Coast Creation Care, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

In an attempt to give them a positive outlook I told them that this was an opportunity to serve, and we concluded that we’d dedicate our Africatown Bridge 5K and Kids Fun Run to the rivers and community they loved so dearly. I wanted them to take on a task that was bigger than them, that many others needed help with, so they never miscalculated the blessing of waking up in a Gulf Coast that gives them both fresh seafood and wholesome hellos from friends and family. I want them to know that they don’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch the sun scorch the earth in front of them without both doing their part in preserving the planet we’ve been blessed with and appreciating the humanity of our people. They impressed me once by starting a small arms recycling program on base once. I pray they make well on this opportunity.

Jason’s daughters drew a map of Alabama’s river systems by hand and brought it with them to the Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K.

I’d like to thank the other members in the Sierra Club, MEJAC, Africatown~CHESS, and everyone that has been holding the line in our mission to preserve both our rivers and our humanity. Thanks for this opportunity to come alongside and add to the numbers of so many who understand the consequences of jumping on the pavement too late in this ever-shifting change in climate. I saw a few worms nestled in the cool soil inches away from where so many lay dried from the noon day sun. I pray we all take as much time on the one-inch steps to do the right thing, and haste to the overwhelming leaps we tend to take; leaps that in most cases miss the mark.

Every person’s effort matters. The rivers matter, and the community matters – both.

The documentary short that inspired Jason’s run was produced by Mobile Delta advocate Ben Raines and can be seen here (starting at 42:29):

MEJAC president Ramsey Sprague can been seen completing the 5K successfully in this short clip:

On July 9, 2022, the Africatown Plateau Pacers walking group will host their inaugural fundraiser walk, inviting all interested in promoting healthy lifestyles to walk with them.

The Plateau Pacers was founded by Rochelle Williams, an organizer with Jason Lewis in VETS. To register for their 2022 Community Walk, visit their website here:

More images of the fun morning at the Africatown Bridge Challenge 5K and Fun Run captured by Joycelyn, Jason, and Ramsey can be seen in the gallery below:

Will Africatown be a Safe Zone in Future Decades? De-Coding the UDC, still – Concerns about Mobile’s Zoning Code Rewrite Linger

Why Should Africatown be a Safe Zone and How Do We Get There?

Zoning has been a hot-button issue for years in Africatown with most advocates clearly wanting Africatown’s future to be a Safe Zone and not a HazMat Zone. Sadly, the way the City of Mobile has failed to capture the spirit of residential concerns in its proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) is disappointing to many.

The World Monuments Fund recently included the Africatown community on its 2022 World Monuments Watch, a selection of “25 of the world’s most significant heritage sites in need of immediate attention.”

With its contributions to World Heritage just now becoming widely recognized and its vulnerable, low-income, and predominantly African-American population, its current development patterns warrant much scrutiny.

Africatown deserves surety that it will change from a HazMat Zone to become a Safe Zone in future decades.

MEJAC along with Africatown residents and stakeholders were yet again present to provide Public Comment about the UDC Version 6 (the February 2022 version) to the Mobile Planning Commission earlier this month on March, 10, 2022.

The Public Comment opportunities during City Council and Planning Commission deliberations of the UDC adoption process have proven the best opportunities to share zoning concerns from Africatown residents, stakeholders, and advocates who have been tragically left out of the loop with the City of Mobile concerning the development of their community, despite their having provided tens of thousands of words of Public Commentary previously in the process.

Amending the UDC’s Africatown Overlay will Clear the Air about Future Development in Africatown

Proposed Amendments to UDC Africatown Overlay submitted to the Mobile Planning Commission

At the March 10 Public Hearing, MEJAC introduced a Draft Amendment to the Africatown Overlay of UDCv6 (PDF) that would refine the language found in the Africatown Overlay section to refer not to “the existing development pattern of the community” but to the Africatown Neighborhood Plan instead, which in best practice should be updated regularly. The last revision was in 2015, well before The Clotilda was identified in 2019.

The Amendment also provides direction to City of Mobile agencies to guide a cessation of industrial and other land uses incompatible with residential neighborhoods over time and its land use restrictions mirror those that were voluntarily adopted by the owner of the 1490 Telegraph Road’s warehouse facility in recognition of the Africatown community’s desire to disallow hazardous and polluting industry from further proliferation in the historic neighborhood.

The Public Comment submitted by MEJAC President & Mobile NAACP ECJC Chair Ramsey Sprague, Africatown Heritage Preservation Foundation co-founder Joe Womack, Africatown residents Walter Moorer & Louise Moorer, and Carol Adams-Davis of the Sierra Club Mobile Bay Group can be viewed on the City of Mobile YouTube here, starting at the 6:30 mark:

You can read President Sprague’s full Public Comment at the end of this blog post.

None of the Public Comments submitted by MEJAC members were addressed by the Planning Commission at all, which was 100% intent on recommending the UDC for passage without any further amendment. The City Council will receive the UDC for full, legal consideration of adopting it as the new Chapter 64 of the Mobile Municipal Code, replacing the existing Chapter 64 – Zoning entirely.

MEJAC encourages all City of Mobile residents to participate in the raising of concerns about the UDC to their City Councilors!

On Tuesday March 29, the Mobile City Council announced a “Committee of the Whole” meeting to hear resident concerns about the UDC set for Tuesday, May 10, 2022 for some time after that day’s City Council meeting. They also announced the introduction of the UDC for legal consideration for Tuesday, May 17, 2022.

Since the public participation process began, MEJAC has been participating in the Map for Mobile closely and has followed its Unified Development Code (UDC) zoning code re-write process since at least the fall of 2017.

Since that time, MEJAC has captured our voluminous sentiments and those of impacted Mobile community members, including Africatown, about the UDC’s shortcomings and its successes in the following blog posts, webinars, and Public Comments*:

(*Released over 2018, what gets referred to as “Version 1” of the UDC never published the entire draft UDC text, so while MEJAC was monitoring what was being shared about the UDC at the time, MEJAC never formally submitted commentary.)

MEJAC President Ramsey Sprague submitted the following Public Comment verbally to the Planning Commission on March 10, 2022:

“Good afternoon.

My name is Ramsey Sprague. I am President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition, or MEJAC, as it’s been called since its founding by Africatown residents over eight years ago in partnership with regional advocates to address environmental justice concerns in and around Mobile.

I am also the Mobile NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Chair.

As y’all know, my agencies have been providing voluminous commentary to the Planning Department over the last 4 years about the UDC, and we’ve seen valuable progress on many of our concerns, but there are still many things that warrant Commission attention.

To address some of our biggest concerns with the shortcomings of the Africatown Overlay, we have drafted an Amendment to it. The amendment does several things:

1) Under Section B. 1., it would make explicit the interest in “the avoidance of further industrial encroachment and the elimination, over time, of those industrial activities that are incompatible with nearby residential neighborhoods.” This was commentary we provided about the Africatown Overlay’s Intent and Purpose that was never acknowledged by Planning.

2) Under Section B. 2.(c), instead of “accommodating the existing development pattern of the community” it would instead “implement the goals of the Africatown Neighborhood Plan”. We feel strongly that that most of the Africatown Neighborhood Plan is workable but that its FLUM is fundamentally flawed and that there is an immediate need for the City to command resources to augment the existing Plan with expertise in industrial land use cessation and de-escalation.

3) It would also amend the Chart of Permitted Uses for the Africatown Overlay to reject use categories that residents and stakeholders who have been reviewing the UDC for years now feel fit their immediate and long-term goals for Africatown of establishing a safety zone that would protect residentially zoned districts from further harm from incompatible uses by explicitly rejecting the continuation or expansion of 41 industrial or otherwise incompatible uses, as they are defined in the UDC. We understand that this version of the UDC would prevent most incompatible land uses from being established in the Africatown Overlay, but what is there today must also be explicitly addressed.

Among other missed opportunities we see are:

1) The Africatown Overlay district, which is surrounded by water on three sides, doesn’t include any provision for waterfront conservation despite the City ostensibly supporting two water-based heritage tourism and recreation efforts in Africatown. The proposed “water dependent maritime use” exemption to all Riparian Buffer standards is too broad. It should be changed to only permit exemption at the site of use and not along thousands of feet of unutilized shoreline. If unchanged, effectively all of Africatown’s waterfront will be exempt from potential waterfront conservation standards in future development along Three Mile Creek, the Mobile River, Chickasaw Creek, and Hog Bayou.

2) We feel that there is an inherent difference between warehousing stuffed animals or barbed wire and warehousing hazardous materials. The current City Code Section 64-12 – Chart of Permitted Uses defines two forms of Warehousing – Heavy and Light, where Heavy includes Hazardous Materials storage and Light does not. The UDC does away with this distinction and decreases the public’s ability to know what is stored in warehouses that may be directly next door to them, as is the case in the Africatown community and elsewhere in the City. The UDC should re-define Warehousing to its previous use definitions in addition to overall warehouse size.

3) An entity within the City’s Planning Department should be tasked with publicly publishing all administrative letters of decision and other decisions stemming from administrative interpretation powers granted by the UDC. How else will the general public know if a staff decision should be appealed to the Board of Adjustment, if they are not the applicant or original inquirer?

4) In the UDC, the Director is tasked with revising the City of Mobile GIS for approved Rezoning Applications and Planned Developments, but direction should be provided to also disclose any specific Council-Imposed Permit Conditions on the GIS, as well as well as instruction for how an individual viewer may access information that may not appear but which is relevant to property inquiry in the City of Mobile. Additionally, general warranty of the GIS and all publicly-facing maps should be provided. Both property inquiry instruction and warranty within publicly-facing municipal GIS is standard in other Alabama cities like Montgomery. Navigating the City’s barriers to public information is very challenging and can be costly, especially to inexperienced entrepreneurs and neighborhood development advocates.

In conclusion, the pandemic has clearly complicated every aspect of life, including public participation around the UDC and Map for Mobile process. This should be cause for more careful examination of concerns that are still brought forth, but instead there’s a drive to simply get this done and over with. Environmental Justice advocates simply want this done right.

Thank you for your time and careful consideration of our agencies’ concerns.”


1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning UPDATE and Future Meeting Info

There have been many updates to the 1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning Application in the City of Mobile’s Africatown Planning Area that MEJAC wrote about in October.

October 19, 2021 – The Mobile City Council Rezoning Application Public Hearing. The Application was held over to allow for the swearing-in for the District 2 Councilor-elect William Carroll who had been elected to replace former Councilor Levon Manzie, who tragically passed away unexpectedly on September 19, 2021.

November 12, 2021 – Councilor Carroll hosted a Neighborhood Meeting Meeting at the Robert Hope Community Center in the hear of Plateau Africatown. Applicant Marty Norden of Norden Realty offered to place dozens of volunteer use restrictions on both his Rezoning Application and the deed for the property. Continue reading

MEJAC’s UDC Version 5 Public Comment

MEJAC provided the following verbal and written Public Comments to the Mobile City Council during its Unified Development Code version 5 (UDCv5) Public Hearing on October 19, 2021.

“Good morning.

My name is Ramsey Sprague. I reside at [. . .].

I am President of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition, or MEJAC, as it’s been called since its founding by Africatown residents over eight years ago in partnership with regional advocates to address environmental justice concerns in and around Mobile.

I am also the Mobile NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Committee Chair.

Environmental racism is an everyday occurrence in Mobile, and the UDC represents an opportunity to address the zoning sins of the past that must not be repeated in the future.

While we’ve seen valuable progress on many of our concerns, we still have some fundamental differences with both the public participation process and the text itself.

Now, the UDC’s Neighborhood Meeting standards are thoroughly reasonable. We feel encouraged by the creation of the UDC’s Low-Impact Development and Riparian Buffer standards, as well as the fact of the creation of the Africatown Overlay itself.

Unfortunately, the Africatown Overlay and other elements fall short of our expectations and in some cases offend the sensibilities of our organizations and partners. For instance, the Administration declined to respond in writing about any concerns raised about the Africatown Overlay at all, but not so with other Overlay districts, which gives a cursory impression that no concerns were raised about the Africatown Overlay at all.

But Africatown residents have been engaged over the last 3 years at every public participation opportunity regarding Industrial zoning standards, the Africatown Overlay, Protection Buffer standards, and landscaping requirements, the latter two of which have improved significantly in our estimation, but the following items represent areas yet to be appropriately addressed:

1) The Africatown Overlay district, which is surrounded by water on three sides, doesn’t include any provision for waterfront conservation despite the City ostensibly supporting two water-based heritage tourism efforts in Africatown. The proposed “water dependent maritime use” exemption to all Riparian Buffer standards is too broad, and if unchanged, effectively all of Africatown’s waterfront will be exempt from potential waterfront conservation standards in future development along Three Mile Creek, the Mobile River, Chickasaw Creek, and Hog Bayou. And that would be a crime against Africatown’s future.

2) The Africatown Overlay must prohibit new, non-replacement Above Ground Oil and Hazardous Substance Storage Tank creation in Africatown. If we all agree that we should be past the petrochemical tank farm expansion episode, then, please, let’s be completely past it.

And finally 3) In 2017, in its current Assessment of Fair Housing report to HUD, the City declared its intent to “accommodate and encourage access to innovative affordable housing” via then-anticipated zoning code revisions, but today’s proposed UDC standards are very often divergent from too many of the AFH report’s Metrics. Assertions to HUD about federal dollars designated for affordable housing efforts in such reports are generally considered binding, and transparency around the lack of alignment between the UDC and AFH is warranted.

In conclusion, the pandemic may have complicated every aspect of life, but the urgency of Environmental Justice in Mobile has not diminished. Thank you for your time and careful consideration of our agencies’ concerns.

1490 Telegraph Road Rezoning, R-1 to I-2, Information

As MEJAC has documented elsewhere, the Rezoning Application for 1490 Telegraph Road is coming at a time when there is heightened interest in zoning activity in the Africatown community.

On Tuesday, October 19 at 10:30am, the Mobile City Council will conduct a Public Hearing for the proposed re-zoning of 1490 Telegraph Road in the Africatown Planning Area from Residential-1 to Industrial-2, from the City’s most restrictive to the City’s most permissive zoning designation.

MEJAC and partner agencies are requesting that the Mobile City Council deny the rezoning for the following reasons: Continue reading