Environmental Factor, August 2005, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
NIEHS Grantee is Finalist for Ford Foundation Award
By Blondell Peterson
NIEHS grantee Gary Grant is one of 29 national finalists for the 2005 Leadership for a Changing World award. Seventeen winners will be selected to receive $100,000 to advance their work and an additional $15,000 for supporting activities.
Winners will be announced Oct. 13.
Leadership for a Changing World is a program of the Ford Foundation in partnership with the Advocacy Institute and the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. The award honors people from areas that are not well-known outside of their local communities or career fields.
Grant said NIEHS funded his program beginning in 1996 through the Community Health and Environmental Reawakening and Community Health Effects of Industrial Hog Operations. "We give a lot of credit to NIEHS for stepping out into this arena of allowing communities to be the grant recipients in order to level the playing field between communities and researchers," Grant said.
"With CHER we are helping communities organize around issues of environmental justice and racism," he said. "Mostly African-American communities are being impacted by corporate hog farms, cattle and landfills-and even now prisons. With the CHEIHO program we set up communities to do research."
Both projects are run in conjunction with the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. Grant works out of an office in his hometown of Tillery, N.C.
He established the African-American Environmental Justice Action Network. He is the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery. He held a leadership role in The National Black Farmers & Agriculturalists Association and the NC Environmental Justice Network. These alliances converted a potato-curing house into a health clinic and settled a $2.4 billion nationwide class action civil rights suit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Organizations he worked with secured a statewide moratorium to stop the disproportionate placement of industrial swine operations and prohibited landfills and other polluting industries from entering low-income and African-American communities. They also increased public services, including the construction of a local fire department.
"I started working with a group of people who had from 3rd to 6th grade education. To watch them become empowered was rewarding. People who had never attended governmental meetings, not only attended but were are able to speak forcefully to governmental representatives who were trying to shove something down their throats that was detrimental to their health," he said.
In particular, one success story stands out greatly for Grant. Susie Weathersbee died in 2003 at the age of 103. She was 82 years old when she registered to vote. At 93, she addressed the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "To watch someone come from that kind of humble background to being able to stand up and say, I am a human being and I will not allow you to treat me this way any longer...is a most rewarding experience. It's something to be proud of," he said.
Grant said he was pleased with the outcome of the black farmer's lawsuit because "it brought national attention to our own government's discrimination against black farmers and their failure to address it even though farmers had been complaining for over 20 years."
He terms the settlement, "a bittersweet harvest" because the farmers collected just under $700 million of the $2.4 billion that was awarded in the settlement. "But just the fact that it once again put black farmers on the radar screen, and helped to define the farmers as not being the stereotypical image that most people get when they hear the words black farmer is somewhat satisfying," he said.
If he is selected as a winner, Grant said he will use the funds to stabilize the staff salaries in the program, hire a full-time employee to address the black farmer issue, and buy a new van for the program. He will then take a self-described "well earned break."