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:

Both/And
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:

https://cwill4212.wixsite.com/website-1


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:

Petition Opportunity: Stop Alabama Power from dumping in Environmental Justice communities

As we are finding, many Clean Air Act pollution permits in and around the Africatown community in Mobile, Prichard, and Chickasaw make clear that there are major issues with how the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) permits toxic dumping in low-income and predominantly Black communities in urban Mobile County.

But in rural north Mobile County near Bucks, there’s a mega coal and gas power plant called Plant Barry that’s owned and operated by Alabama Power and the residents near the plant are disproportionately Black and Indigenous, and there are schools and daycare facilities nearby.

And despite these facts, when Alabama Power asked for permission to release illegal levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) from Plant Barry, ADEM agreed and chose not to enforce the Clean Air Act. So, clearly the challenge of environmental racism affect communities across Mobile County.

Breathing SO2 pollution is like getting a sunburn on your lungs, and if Alabama Power’s special permission stands, Plant Barry’s SO2 emissions could be more than two or three times the federal government’s health-based legal limit. Reliable models show the filthy plant’s air pollution is far-reaching, impacting both rural and urban communities already burdened by other pollution.

For this reason, MEJAC has joined forces with Sierra Club Alabama Chapter and GASP to petition the U.S. EPA to step in and properly regulate Alabama Power where Alabama’s state decision-makers didn’t.

By signing your name on the petition and adding your personal message, you’ll show the EPA that there are Alabamians who believe we all deserve clean air.

Scientific air modeling based on the proposed Clean Air Act Title V permit for Plant Barry shows levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) that are in violation of the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) at twice or three times the allowable levels immediately around the dangerous facility, and the illegal levels of this toxic air pollutant could even reach into already overburdened urban Mobile County communities like Africatown.

An image from the Attachments to Petition to Object to APC Barry Title V Permit, Sub-Attachment 1, page 3, with the Africatown Planning Area highlighted for orientation showing Africatown's air quality being impacted by illegally high levels of SO2

An illustration provided to EPA in the Sierra Club and GASP Petition to Object entitled “Attachments to Petition to Object to APC Barry Title V Permit”, Sub-Attachment 1, page 3 (page 235 in the PDF), with the Africatown Planning Area highlighted and labeled by MEJAC for orientation to show how Africatown’s air quality may be impacted by illegally high levels of SO2 from Plant Barry. The 1-hour average SO2 concentrations within the red, orange, and yellow contour lines exceed the NAAQS.

An image from the documentation provide to EPA in the Petition to Object entitled "Attachments to Petition to Object to APC Barry Title V Permit", Sub-Attachment 3, page 1 (page 274 in the PDF), with the Africatown Planning Area highlighted and labeled by MEJAC for orientation to show how Africatown's air quality may be impacted by illegally high levels of SO2 from Plant Barry

An illustration provided to EPA in the Sierra Club and GASP Petition to Object entitled “Attachments to Petition to Object to APC Barry Title V Permit”, Sub-Attachment 3, page 1 (page 274 in the PDF), with the Africatown Planning Area highlighted and labeled by MEJAC for orientation to show how Africatown’s air quality may be impacted by illegally high levels of SO2 from Plant Barry. All colored areas exceed the NAAQS.

Now is the time to act! New EPA leaders have committed to achieving environmental justice in overburdened communities – yes, even in Mobile County. Our actions can help them stop polluters and policymakers from turning Black, Indigenous, communities of color, and low-income neighborhoods into dumping grounds.

Add your name. Share your story. And tell a friend.

If we come together, we can make a big difference not only for our neighbors living nearest Plant Barry, but for all of us who are sick of dealing with Alabama Power’s dirty and dangerous special privileges.

And all of these concerns in an addition to all the existing concerns about Alabama Power’s Plant Barry toxic, leaking coal ash waste dump on the Mobile River!


Resources:

More De-Coding the City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC)

De-Coding the City of Mobile's proposed UDC theme banner "More De-Coding: UDC Version 5 Update Breakdown"The City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) zoning code rewrite has changed yet again. For environmental justice advocates, there is some great news and some very disappointing news.

During its first Public Hearing at the Mobile Planning Commission on February 25, 2021, Africatown stakeholders and environmental justice advocates from across the City of Mobile came together to raise serious concerns with the fourth version of the UDC (UDCv4).

The Planning Commission then convened two “business meetings” on March 8 and March 29 to consider changes to UDCv4, which effectively modified it to a fifth version of the UDC (UDCv5). The final recommendation of passage of the UDCv5 by the Mobile City Council was voted on at the April 1, 2021 Planning Commission meeting, which saw a few small additional changes made to UDCv5 just before the vote to recommend adoption of the zoning code rewrite to City Council. The Mobile City Council has now received UDCv5, but to-date no Public Comment opportunities have been set.

Back at the February 25th Public Hearing, MEJAC and the Mobile Alabama NAACP continued their environmental justice partnership to make specific recommendations to the Planning Commission in writing. To provide context for the changes partly resulting from environmental justice engagement and advocacy in the code adoption process from UDCv4 to UDCv5, our 10 CONCERNS about UDCv4 are provided below along with 10 UDCv5 UPDATES.

Use this chart for quick reference and to click through to more documentation of our UDCv4 CONCERNS below and how they were or were not addressed in the UDCv5 UPDATES:

v4 Concern 1) Protection Buffers – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 2) Africatown Tank Farm Expansion – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 3) Industrial Blight in Africatown – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 4) CPTED limited to Africatown – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 5) Industrial Landscaping in Africatown – Resolved by UDCv5
v4 Concern 6) Riparian Buffer exemptions – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 7) Water conservation in Africatown – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 8) Coal ordinance concerns – Partially addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 9) Oil tank design standards – Not addressed by UDCv5
v4 Concern 10) Affordable housing concerns – Not addressed by UDCv5

A summary of all changes from UDCv4 to UDCv5 has been provided by City of Mobile here (https://mapformobile.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Summary-of-Changes-Post-Feb-25-2021-Public-Hearing-2.pdf).

Continue reading

Webinar Series: De-Coding the City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC)

Join MEJAC, the Mobile Alabama NAACP, and directly affected Mobile residents from across the city in taking a critical look at the City of Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) zoning code rewrite based partly on MEJAC’s UDC report, “Changes are Necessary for the Proposed City of Mobile UDC Zoning Code Rewrite”(https://mejacoalition.org/2021/01/19/final_udc_comments/).

We will open our panel discussions every weekday February 15-19 for a lively and revealing conversation about the Mobile zoning code and its proposed UDC rewrite at 11am followed by a brief audience Q&A.
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The New City of Mobile Zoning Code: Kudos and Concerns

The Africatown community faces huge changes through proposed revisions to the City of Mobile Zoning Code. Advocates have released the following responses to the Planning Department. There is much to potentially be excited for, but unfortunately, there also appears to be many unnecessary and inappropriate zoning designations proposed, as well. As complex as this issue is, Africatown advocates agree that the City must wrestle with the contradictions in the current land use designations, how properties are being used, and the interests of the Africatown community to protect both its residential integrity and respect its many environmental concerns.

Build Mobile’s proposed Unified Development Code (UDC) Background

Africatown residents and regional advocates, as well as many environmental justice community leaders from around Mobile provided significant participation during the Map for Mobile project. This resulted in the creation of a Future Land Use Map (FLUM) of the entire city that provided a non-binding sketch of what a comprehensive zoning map could look like.

The next step taken in the process to modernize the City of Mobile’s long-range planning processes was to examine all of the rules around getting “planning approval” for real estate developers, businesses, and residents in the city.

This culminated as the City of Mobile’s Build Mobile program. Its mission is ostensibly to consolidate and, in some places, “streamline” the planing approval process to make the land use rules that bind developers, business owners, and residents more transparent, modern, and less cumbersome. The Build Mobile process basically exists today as a sub-organization within the city’s Planning Department.

Cover Page of the Build Mobile proposed UDCIn January 2019, Build Mobile submitted a draft of what they are calling the Unified Development Code (UDC) for public consideration, and it’s time to PROVIDE FEEDBACK. The original deadline for this general public comment period ended Friday, March 8, but the deadline has been extended another 30 days to April 8, 2019.

The entire 386 pages of the Build Mobile UDC code is available for review here. Continue reading