Monique R. McMillan is a familiar face to many in the Fayetteville area. Monique has been a part of NCLCVF’s PowerUp NC field program since it launched in January 2015, and now serves as the Fayetteville Regional Field Director. PowerUp works with and through vulnerable communities for whom environmental justice is something only privileged communities have typically enjoyed.
Monique and her team have held community meetings, listening, learning, and discovering what the neighborhoods want and need. Then Mother Nature stepped in and changed their priorities. A hurricane!
Florence was Monique’s first major hurricane. She, her husband, and their four children hunkered down in their home while their garage flooded, tiles were torn from the roof, and the power went out. It wouldn’t come back on for two weeks.
“But we were lucky,” Monique said. “I went to check on the community I work with. They had water up to their roofs. Whole families were displaced for weeks. And history told them their community would be the last to receive help.”
So Moe and her PowerUp team went to work. They set out to check on people, and they started wellness checks. As the water receded, the mold flourished, and allergies exploded. Moe’s team started classes on how to identify mold, how to treat it, and when to call the health department.
After three months, the PowerUp crew still saw piles of soggy, mold-infested insulation laying at curbsides. Community members shared that they had not had any word from city officials. So PowerUp helped write a petition demanding that communities of color and low-wealth communities be prioritized. These petitions were delivered to City Hall, and within days, City Council members began to appear, and help started. It was late, yes. But it came, and the community noticed.
So Moe and PowerUp used a teachable moment. Together, we can influence the government. Together, we can pressure officials to recognize the importance of changing weather patterns to people’s lives and the critical need for planning and creating resilience in our communities.
Residents grew to trust that PowerUp would be there to listen to community priorities and needs, to work side-by-side with community leaders, to get their voices heard, and to help people appreciate their environment and their power to protect it.
Monique McMillian is part of a strong team, doing important work – saving the world – one community at a time.