Environmental justice is not just a civil rights issue, it is a human rights issue.
Sadly, when discussing issues of civil rights, environmental concerns tend not to register as high as others, nor as high as they should. Issues of pollution in predominantly African-American communities lead to a myriad of health problems including, lung disease, asthma and overall diminished quality of life.
For years, the residents of North Minneapolis have been calling on officials to address their environmental concerns and it appears some are listening. On the sunny afternoon of March 9, government officials and community partners unveiled the first “solar garden” in North Minneapolis, atop the roof of Shiloh Temple, 1201 W. Broadway Ave.
Shiloh’s roof will host 630 solar panels providing 204 kilowatts of electricity that will power Shiloh Temple, Masjid an Nur, 1729 Lyndale Ave. N., and 26 neighborhood residents. The project is a partnership between Shiloh Temple, Masjid an Nur and Community Solar Gardens. In addition to providing needed clean energy, the project is providing economic opportunities for people of color. According to representatives from Community Solar Gardens, 50 percent of the panel’s installers will be people of color.
Bishop Richard Howell, pastor of Shiloh Temple, said the project is one of divine order.
“This is a movement of faith, which recognizes the dismantling of systematic poverty and creates opportunities for the indigenous to have hope,” said Howell. “Today we recognize that same light (which God provided) has come to this community from a roof that will provide the right light for energy, power and opportunity. Welcome the light … solar powered light. This is a triumphant moment for our community and I’m proud to be a part of the process of restoring economic justice to our community.”
In addition to being a partner, Shiloh Temple was selected as a site for the panels because the church’s flat roof allowed for the panel’s to be best positioned to capture the sun’s energy.
The additional 26 residents who will draw power from the soon-to-be-installed solar panels, will subscribe through Xcel Energy. For this project, removed are income and credit restrictions.
“This is bigger than energy, it’s about a larger part of equal access in our democracy,” said Jacqui Patterson, national director of the NAACP Environmental Justice Program. “We want to take what’s happening in Minnesota and replicate it throughout the country.”
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey was on hand for the unveiling of North Minneapolis’ first solar panels. He said the project was funded in part with fees paid to the city by companies considered the “biggest polluters” in Minneapolis. He said the project is what true community investment looks like.
“That what inclusion looks like. That’s what progress looks like,” said Frey.
Minneapolis Fifth Ward Councilman Jeremiah Ellison, who ran on a platform that included environmental justice, said the solar project is about correcting historical ills.
“We have a lot of historic harms to remedy and this helps to remedy one of those harms,” said Ellison. “This is the first (North Minneapolis solar garden), but we want this to be the norm moving forward.”