With guidance from Albert Schweitzer Fellow Melissa Crum, the Greater Linden Development Corporation, and their eighth-grade social studies teacher Roderick Watson, Jr., these youth aim to answer these questions in a documentary film that will chronicle the history, environmental challenges, and the community activism that has long shaped this neighborhood in the northeast corner of Columbus, Ohio.
Crum says the project will also give the students, who attend Linden-McKinley STEM Academy, an interactive lesson on the ways in which they can both learn about, and create change in, their community.
“I hope that students can see how school doesn’t have to be disconnected from their community, and that they have resources at their disposal—the internet, newspapers, other community members, the library and so on—to educate themselves about their environment,” says Crum. “I hope they’ll then use what they learn to effect positive change in Linden.”
Crum, a PhD candidate in Ohio State University’s Department of Arts Administration, Education and Policy, knows what most Ohioans think about when they think about Linden: crime, economic depression, poverty, urban blight. That’s what they see on the nightly news or read about in their newspapers, but there are many positive things happening that don’t get attention, says Crum. Her desire to support and lift up the positive forces working in the neighborhood inspired her collaboration with the Linden-McKinley students.
“I don’t live in Linden but I frequent the neighborhood,” Crum explains. “I go to church there, worked in a food pantry, and patronize restaurants—some of the best Caribbean food in Columbus! I’ve learned of some of the history of the neighborhood and some of the many great things community members are doing there that don’t receive much press: community gardens, poetry slams, plays, community clean-ups, and other programs. I wanted to figure out how I could work in the neighborhood that I find myself in weekly and simply support efforts that are already occurring.”
In fact, the absence of attention to all of the good on in the neighborhood is the most surprising element of Crum’s Schweitzer Fellowship to date. So much of what happens in Linden and in other low-income communities of color happens under the radar, she laments.
“They don’t get credit for their work and people ensure that the negative is consistently amplified via various media channels,” says Crum. “I’m not surprised that low-income African Americans are working to support their neighborhood; I’m surprised at how so much of the work is going unnoticed.”
The reality is that there is much work to be done to improve the health and quality of life of Linden residents. The problem of people experiencing health problems from exposure to things over which they have little to no control is one of the most pressing health concerns of our time, Crum believes. Ohio, she notes, has consistently led the U. S. in the amount of toxic chemicals released into the air and ranks as one of the top five states in exposing residents to pollution. Furthermore, she adds, Youngstown and Columbus are in the top 10 metropolitan areas with disparate impacts from pollution. Despite these problems, Crum says there is little thorough investigation into Ohio’s environmental inequalities and low-income and minority communities continue to be more affected by environmental pollution and degradation than wealthier, whiter communities.
Air pollution is associated with low birth weights, increased infant deaths, increased risk of lung cancer, and death from heart attacks—and Linden has many of these same death and cancer rates, Crum says, continuing to catalogue the impact of an unhealthy environment. Additionally, low-income households, people with no high school diploma, female-headed households with minor children, and the uninsured are at an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer, she says. And for all cancer sites and types combined, she adds, black men have a higher incidence rate and death rate, compared to women and people of other races.
“What is important to note here is that low-income, low-educated, and/or female-headed households are not inherently more susceptible to cancer simply because of who they are,” Crum says. Rather, their health is influenced by external factors such as access to adequate healthcare, available time off from work for doctor visits, and access to transportation and childcare if they can make it to a physician.
“We have to educate ourselves on the pollutants in our neighborhood and those around us and be advocates for ourselves and others,” Crum adds. “We need to research businesses in our city, talk to the EPA, find out who is polluting, what are the pollutants, what are the effects, and learn what measures we can take to prevent illness as much as possible.”
“The Schweitzer Fellowship is helping me with my mission to be dedicated to building and bridging communities with businesses, social service organizations, educational institutions educators; activists and others wanting to advance the mission of social justice, philanthropy and education,” says Crum. “I’m glad I have been offered the opportunity to humbly serve as best I know how: not as an expert, but simply as a facilitator connecting people looking to help.”