Project: Essay by Rachel Radvany

From this project I have learned so much about the history of Durham. I lived in this city for one year before I really had any interactions with its community, and I am so thankful I found an avenue to engage in the local community through an area that I am passionate about. Talking to the members of the Year-Round Garden Club and hearing their stories about growing up and living in Durham and how much it has changed was eye opening. 

I also learned a lot about their experience with climate change and environmental justice. Our interviews also focused on the spirituality of gardening and the history of social justice within Durham. 

Looking at many of the stories of the other localities involved in the Humanities Action Lab project, it seemed that the majority are focused on fighting environmental disasters. Whether it’s the earthquake in Mexico, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, or water quality issues in Chicago, the universities are looking at existing problems and attempting to find solutions. Our local story is a bit different – we are focusing more on the future. From learning about our local story, I hope that visitors will take away the idea that any person can do their part to help climate change. The people in these garden clubs are using gardening as a spiritual venture, but they at the same time are helping to beautify the community around them and live sustainably. I hope that others will see their example and try to make sustainable changes in their own lives. Maybe some of them will even start their own garden. 

I first learned the definition of environmental justice in an introductory environmental science class my first year at Duke. I immediately became very passionate about the subject. We learned about it through the lens of North Carolina hog farming, and I then chose to research this further for a literature review for the next environmental policy class I took. Since then, I have become very wary of the disproportionate effect of climate change on people of color and lower income communities, and I want to become involved in more programs or organizations to help mitigate these inequalities. I have been fortunate enough to have grown up in a community that has largely been sheltered from the most devastating effects of climate change, but I know others have not been so lucky. I want to use my skills and expertise to both spread awareness about environmental justice issues as well as to help the communities that suffer because of it.