Ki’Ana Speights, a former U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Legacy Management (LM) summer intern, reflects on what environmental justice means to her. Speights graduated in May from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, with a major in environmental science and a minor in social justice.
Who is your role model for environmental justice? And why?
KS: My role model for environmental justice is Majora Carter. She is a huge leader, visionary, and activist in the greening process for her home in New York. I believe the process of creating change for marginalized people starts where you come from.
What is it about environmental justice that interests you?
KS: I constantly advocate for action on climate change, ways to reduce the carbon footprint, and sustainable practices of resource management. What I’ve realized studying these topics is that there is inequality in the distribution of impact from environmental change and in the distribution of resources that can create resilience in communities looking to overcome environmental challenges and figure out new ways to survive.
Do you think that the environmental laws, regulations, and policies that are currently in place adequately protect minority populations? Would you change anything?
KS: This depends on the geographic region and the culture. Environmental policy differs all around the world and may not benefit everyone equally. For example, responses to natural disasters are not as immediate in some areas, such as we saw in Puerto Rico after the island was hit by a major hurricane. Environmental policy should change along with the times to fit the situation at hand. There should always be preparation to change along with the changing climate.
Have you experienced or witnessed injustice in your life?
KS: As an African American woman, I experience many injustices in my daily life. Environmentally speaking, I live in a lower-income area in South Carolina. Being in a lower-income area, you are more susceptible to environmental hazards than somebody who lives in a middle- or higher-income area. There is a large dog food plant by our grocery store that releases emissions that are thick and potent in the air, which is not good for respiratory health. However, since my town does not produce a lot of jobs and money, the government has displaced people from their homes to build large factories, such as the dog food plant.
Did your internship with LM change your outlook on your studies and future career path?
KS: Yes, the DOE internship helped shape my focus on environmental justice. The internship helped me steer my path by allowing me to work within marginalized communities. My attendance at the Uranium 101 workshops opened my eyes to the type of work that I would be getting into with environmental justice, advocacy, and outreach.
What are your plans after graduation?
KS: I plan to move to Washington, D.C., and attend American University to obtain a master’s degree in ethics, peace, and human rights, with a focus on global environmental justice.
Now that your college life is coming to an end, what will you miss the most?
KS: I think what I will miss the most is spending time with my friends and going on random adventures. Going through the COVID-19 pandemic has made me realize that you should appreciate what you have while you have it. This was obviously not a part of the plan, but it has made me grow a sense of gratitude for my community at Hollins.