North Minneapolis Earth Day celebration focuses on environmental justice, impact on communities of color


On Saturday, April 27, Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM) and the Minneapolis chapter of the Sierra Club Environmental Justice Program played host to an Earth Day Celebration, held at the Kwanzaa Community Church in North Minneapolis. The event was an opportunity for the community to hear about how the treatment of the environment has an impact on their daily lives while enjoying some food, entertainment, and being in each other’s company.

“It’s a celebration. It’s about bringing all kinds of different folks together to share information, to begin building authentic relationships, and to celebrate our connection to each other and our connection to the earth,” said Sierra Club Environmental Justice Organizer Karen Monahan.

While many people like Monahan who are passionately involved in environmental justice believe the movement is gaining momentum, they feel that more work still needs to be done. She hopes that they will continue to be able to “move forward with the work that we need to do around environmental justice to make sure that all communities have access to clean air, clean water, and healthy foods.” She also wants to inform people in the community that they “have a chance to be a part of the green renewable economy.”

EJAM activist Louis Alemayehu imparted his wisdom to the crowd and recited a poem. He introduced all the other speakers throughout the event, and he was very direct about the importance of understanding how our lifestyles impact the environment, and in turn the population:

“We need to reclaim some really traditional values that maybe come from the very villages our [ancestors] started from, where we were living in harmony with our environment and had a lot of respect for it.”

Alemayehu said, “There’s got to be a shift. You can’t eat money, you can’t drink money, and you can’t argue with fire. There’s got to be a drastic change, and we can’t do this in isolation from one another.”

People from the neighborhood filled the church on the corner of 21st and Emerson Avenues North to listen to guest speaker Congressman Keith Ellison and others discuss the importance of people in the community being aware of the conditions of their environment. Ellison, one of the original founders of EJAM, has been advocating environmental justice for many years and expressed a special concern for the conditions of the environment in communities of color.

Left: Karen Monahan (l) and volunteer Stephanie Spencer

“Pollution affects people of color and low-income people more than anyone else,” Ellison pointed out. “This Earth Day Celebration here in North Minneapolis is to try to inspire people to understand that the air you’re breathing, the water you’re drinking, and the food that you’re eating is having a real negative impact on your health.”

Ellison also talked about other issues that have a negative impact on the environment, such as the lead in paint still on houses built before 1978, having access to healthy food, and the placement of facilities that emit toxic pollutants.

The audience was then treated to a performance by the High School for Recording Arts Green Team, who performed a couple of catchy songs about wearing safety gear and the benefits to riding a bicycle. Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc also performed a traditional dance.

In addition to the local community coming out, the Earth Day Celebration in Minneapolis is strongly supported by those from outside the community, like Leslie Fields, director of the Environmental Justice Program at for Sierra Club who came in from Washington D.C. She said she makes sure she attends the Minneapolis event every year and is very proud of how Monahan and the local Sierra Club chapter put it together.

Fields described how she feels about the celebration: “I really like it. It’s so community oriented. This doesn’t happen everywhere in the country; this is very unique, it’s very special.”

Fields also expressed a great deal of respect for Congressman Ellison: “That fact that you guys [Minnesotans] have a congressman like [him]… If I was going to speak [to the audience], I would say, ‘Please keep sending Keith Ellison to Congress, okay?’ Because he helps everybody. He’s so great!”

The Earth Day Celebration concluded fittingly with people going out to help tend to community gardens. Luckily the weather cooperated, as it was a beautiful day outside. The neighbors with gardens were more than happy to receive the help.

For more information on environmental justice and how to get involved, or tips on how to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, contact the Sierra Club Minneapolis Chapter at 952-220-1453, or visit their website at

To read about Louis Alemayehu and EJAM see page 8 of the new MSR Green 2 Green pages.