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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Aug 1 / Zach Kilgore

RISEUP and the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute

Following a discussion on environmental justice and race with Barbara Jones from the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies, RISEUP was invited to present on environmental justice to high school students attending the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute at Wayne State.

The Center for Peace and Conflict Studies hosts the five-day summer program for students in 10th through 12th grade throughout the Detroit-Windsor border area. In the spirit of Ralph Bunche, the first person of color to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, students learn about social justice, conflict resolution, diversity, and world affairs through a series of talks and activities.

Although the program fell on the same day as the research symposium, where interns gave reports on their projects to a wide academic audience, RISEUP was still able to contribute. Program administrator Zach Kilgore, who is working toward a degree in urban studies and planning, collaborated with intern Brett Zeuner, to give a talk on environmental justice in Detroit through the lens of property ownership issues in urban community gardening.

“It’s really great that I’m able to contribute to these programs in such a large way,” says Kilgore. “Even as a student assistant, I’ve had the opportunity to add a perspective from my field of study – urban planning – which is very relevant to both RISEUP and Ralph Bunche.”

Kilgore’s talk highlighted issues Zeuner noticed while working on his project, such as the difficulty faced by community gardeners who try to acquire land in their neighborhoods. Oftentimes, Zeuner discovered, local governments are unresponsive to their requests to purchase land. In contrast, corporations have taken ownership of many of the publicly owned vacant lots.

“We had a really great discussion about environmental justice at the end of the talk,” said Kilgore. “I think we were able to get these high school students thinking about not just environmental justice issues, but about the academic opportunities they’ll have in college.”