Rev. Robert Leak III grew up in the shadow of an industrial plant. So he didn’t grow up knowing that the air shouldn’t make your eyes water or your throat burn. In fact, by the time he was 24, Robert had asthma so bad he could barely walk to the front door.
Something was wrong.
Why were formerly healthy young people getting sick? Why had his mom died of lung cancer?
Robert began to research. And he learned: place matters. But what do you do if history tells you no one cares?
Then PowerUp NC came to the neighborhood. Robert went to hear what they had to say. He admits he expected a bunch of hippie types telling the community what they should do. To his surprise, they didn’t preach. They listened. They heard. And they were ready to help with what mattered to the community – all the while quietly sharing how each problem has a root in the environment.
For instance, one issue that came up was cars speeding through the community. What did that have to do with the environment? As the PowerUp crew worked with the community leaders to convince the city to put in speed bumps, they met with people in the neighborhood to point out that speeding cars did endanger their children, endanger their pets, increase the risk of accidents, and make a lot of noise. It also filled the air with exhaust. And the community understood.
Place matters, and so do people. Rev. Robert Leak III now works for PowerUp, and that makes a difference too. People know his family has a long history of caring and working for the common good. They trust Robert. They go to him for advice. Today he is on city boards advocating for his old neighborhood.
It’s people like Robert who are the power in PowerUp, helping their own communities by listening, caring, helping, and engaging others to do the same. Robert is passing on the power – helping others in his own community work on problems and learn the power of approaching the people in power together, helping others learn the power of their vote and the importance of issues that will quite literally clear the air.
Rev. Robert Leak III
“I believe that environmental issues are people issues. I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t breathe air or drink water. We all have a stake in protecting our environment.”
Sen. Michael Garrett
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.
Monique R. McMillan
Jeanette Kelly is a leader in her community. When neighbors, church members, or even strangers need help, Jeanette is there. So when PowerUp NC planned a meeting in her neighborhood, Jeanette was eager to attend. The topic was weatherization, and it turned out that Jeanette’s house qualified for the program. She was delighted, and ready to pay it forward. She was there when the South Side Community Day project partnered with PowerUp to help others weatherize their homes. Jeanette helped stuff weather stripping which would be given to anyone who needed it. She was there to help PowerUp demonstrate how to plug holes where homes leak heat or air conditioning, and she was there to give neighbors the materials to do the work.
“That is part of why I enjoy working with PowerUp,” Jeanette said, “They listen to what you think is important. They listen to what you need. Then when the neighborhood has chosen a project, they work shoulder-to-shoulder with us, helping us get the materials and information we need. We do the work, and I know working alongside the PowerUp crew made me realize that sometimes we are so busy living day-to-day that we don’t take time to think about the bigger picture. PowerUp helped me stop and notice that weatherizing my house not only lowered my power bill, but it also lowered pollution levels in our neighborhood. It was good for me, and good for the community.”
People like Jeanette Kelly are the power in PowerUp!
“I am a NCLCVF board member because they are actively working to make sure North Carolina’s environment is protected. Having lived in this state all my life, I know there has been enough abuse of the land and ocean. So I am delighted that NCLCVF is working tirelessly to make sure we know about issues that could be a detriment to the outdoors I grew up with.
Having lived on the coast most of my life, it is important to me that we support organizations like NCLCVF with our actions and with our dollars, because I want my grandchildren to enjoy the water. I want them to enjoy the beauty of our mountains, and I want them to be able to drink clean water – like I did as a child.”
Deborah Dicks Maxwell