Atlanta community members traveled from neighborhoods all over the city to gather at Emory University for the HERCULES Community Forum on Saturday, October 11th. Dr. Melanie Pearson kicked off the event by introducing attendees to the HERCULES Center, the expertise it has to offer, and its scientific theme of the exposome. Dr. Pearson emphasized how the exposome can help identify communities facing multiple exposures or those who may already be more vulnerable to new exposures. To tackle the impact of these complex exposures, some of HERCULES’ experts in environmental health issues such as air pollution, pesticide exposure, clean water and toxicology were present to discuss community concerns.
Learning from one another
Each community member participated in three “Understanding the Science” sessions that were designed to start the conversation between the scientist and the local community, allowing both to share their expertise. Obesity, the built environment and healthy foods were among the most widespread concerns followed closely by asthma and illegal dumping.
With these shared concerns fresh in everyone’s minds, participants selected a breakout session in which they participated in a demonstration of one of two community action models. The models presented the strategic steps to initiating action and introduced community members to valuable tools their community might like to use for future action. At the conclusion of the session, each participant was prompted to write down their next action step. If just a few of these action steps are successfully completed, these Atlanta communities have incredible potential of alleviating their environmental concerns through engaged and coordinated action.
A Shared Vision for Change
After a morning of intensive work sharing and learning from one another, the group sat down to relax and contemplate next steps while listening to the hard work of another community. Mr. Harold Mitchell, Jr., South Carolina State Representative, graciously traveled to Atlanta to share the story of their community-based environmental justice organization, ReGenesis. Under Mr. Mitchell’s remarkable leadership, their community successfully began the transformation process to a community free of environmental contamination and full of hope and vitality for the future.
Emphasizing the importance of a coordinated and united effort, Mr. Mitchell demonstrated how change is possible no matter how great or how unexpected the obstacles may be. Throughout his keynote address, the connection he made with the Atlanta community members was visible throughout the room. The energy in the room spoke of a community eager for change and as everyone left the forum, the air was full of potential for more action to come.