My name is Mykela Patton, I am a senior at Skyline High School, and this summer I was fortunate enough to be an intern with the Rose Foundation with their New Voices Are Rising program. The program opened my eyes to so many different issues in Oakland and the Bay Area surrounding environmental and social justice. Issues such as pesticides, coal, affordable housing, and water quality are just a few of the topics covered over the summer. The topic that impacted me the most was environmental racism. This issue was paired with a trip to the Richmond Refinery District, which happens to be where low-income communities of Richmond area mainly located.
As most residents of the Bay Area know, Richmond, CA is home to the Chevron Refinery. The proximity of the refinery to the homes of Richmond residents is not well known, however. When I went on the Refinery District tour, the concept of environmental racism really hit me. The refinery was literally right across the street from affordable housing units. The wind blows pollutants from the refinery in the direction of low-income communities of color. The only separation from the refinery and people’s homes was a street and a fence. The effects of this horrible refinery are directly felt only by low-income communities. Point Richmond, which is known to be the wealthier part of Richmond, does not directly suffer from the effects of the refinery. The wind blows in the opposite direction of the homes in this area, so residents do not have to breathe in pollutants in their home. The residents of Point Richmond do not have black soot on their walls due to the Chevron Refinery.
This trip allowed me to see some of the lesser known problems in America and in the world. The fact that people who need the most help also always suffer the most is a horrendous issue that should be addressed immediately. These environmental injustices can lead to unhappy lives, health defects, and even death.
The refinery is a major issue in itself. One potential solution to reverse some of the damage done to low-income communities of color would be to stop using fossil fuels. If the world ended its dependence on such a harmful energy source, the environmental problems that we face now wouldn’t necessarily go away, but they will not be worsened. However, since there is such a strong dependence on fossil fuels, nonrenewable energy will not go away for a very long time. In order to ensure that the effects will not be felt so severely, there should be regulations that make the refinery more secluded.
My internship with the Rose Foundation taught me one very crucial lesson. Even though I am a youth, I still have the right to voice my opinion on issues that I feel are important. I have that right because regardless of your age, nationality, or background, your home is your home. The Bay Area is my home, and I do not want its most vulnerable citizens to be suffering. With this lesson, and the many other valuable skills I learned throughout the summer, I believe that I can make a change in my community. It may take a while, and it may be small, but I do believe I can make a difference, and that is my goal in life. I want to make Oakland and the Bay Area a better place for the future generations to come.