When I was 14, I had no knowledge of environmental privilege and injustice. I lived in a neighborhood and city where corporations didn’t dump waste into our neighborhoods; children didn’t have a higher chance of getting asthma or other lung problems due to air pollution.
But over the first two years of high school, I learned about these terms. I became more aware of my surroundings, as well as the privilege I experience where I live. My views before high school were like a one-way road: they were narrow and without incoming perspective and knowledge about injustices and privilege. I was lucky to not need to lobby local leaders and the government so I could breathe more freely. But there are those who do have to fight for clean air. After discovering this reality, I have spent my time in and outside of the classroom learning more and seeing how I can create change.
It started with my Advanced Placement human geography class, where I began learning about environmental issues and those who are most impacted. My teacher was the one who brought the topic up during class. At first, I was very intrigued. I became interested in solving the problem, so I started to do my own research outside of the classroom.
My developing passion for making a change in environmental issues led me to my Girls Inc. Eureka internship at the Mississippi River Connection. During this experience, I learned about the environmental impacts of invasive species in and around the Mississippi River. We even did restoration projects where we removed invasive species from different plots of land.
I also learned the history of the Mississippi River, ranging from its origin to the industrial revolution and the current state of the river today. I learned the disadvantages of the local communities around the rivers throughout history, such as during the industrial revolution, when the poorer neighborhoods located near the river had an increase of health problems and disease outbreaks, like typhoid. This led to many deaths and a gradual change in company policies for properly disposing of waste.
Furthering my interest, my first job was joining the environmental justice crew at the Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center at the Science Museum of Minnesota. We learned and analyzed local and national environmental issues that affected specific communities. For example, after researching the geographic information system mapping we found that a few local communities have been impacted by toxic chemicals dumped by nearby factories.
We also learned how the chemicals spread to other communities. Many of these communities did not have the power to bring up the problem to local authorities and government leaders. This led to many problems, such as health issues for members of the community.
Throughout my first two years of high school, my classroom education and my work experience have not only shifted my perspective of environmental injustice and privilege; they have inspired me to pursue it as a college major and as a career. This is because I care about not just my communities, but specifically those who are unfairly at a disadvantage. As I think about my future, especially working in this field, I can’t help but think about what my AP human geography teacher, Mr. Bidwell, said: “Ahreum, you can change this world if you continue to use your human geography knowledge.”
I am excited to expand my knowledge of human geography and use it to make a change for the better.