Tonight, February 5th, I attended the annual One Book, One Richmond Lecture in Camp Concert Hall at 7:00 PM. The lecture was with author, pediatrician, and environmental rights activist Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. Mona is the author of What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resilience, and Hope in the American City and she came to the University of Richmond with Dr. Karen Remley, former CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Two empowering women with incredible expertise in the field of public health, they came to campus with the intent of discussing What the Eyes Don’t See as well as the importance of environmental justice. Dr. Hanna-Attisha came to the United States from Iraq when she was four years old, and she noted in her talk that she has always been aware of the injustices around her, so she wanted to combine her passion for social justice with medicine. As she noted, “you are always a part of history, and history repeats itself,” so entering the field of pediatrics Mona knew she wanted to make both social, environmental, and medical leaps and bounds towards equity, for children in particular during her time on this Earth.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha never knew that lead could contaminate water– as you do not physically see it as a contaminant of drinking water and the physical detriments do not appear for decades after consuming it. Residents in Flint, Michigan have an average life expectancy that is 15 years lower than that of other districts in Michigan– evidence that zip codes can predict health– and this has to do with the water crisis there. Environmental justice pertains to leadership in that the children and families living in underfunded and redlined districts– a consequence of race, class, and gender issues– and Dr. Hanna-Attisha felt that it was her civic duty to protect children among the most vulnerable communities. Environmental justice is also tied to political leadership and followership; as she pointed out, the “most essential aspect of democracy is voting,” so we can make a change in unjust environmental and climate issues pervading the United States and around the world.
I highly recommend What the Eyes Don’t See to anyone interested not only in the Flint, MI water crisis but environmental issues in general and their relationship to social justice.