As Ingham County’s first Environmental Justice Coordinator, I am developing partnerships, funding and strategies to create equitable opportunity access to environmental benefits and protections in Ingham County across different races, classes, income groups or other forms of difference.
Health is not just about health care and healthy behavior. Our environments impact our health. The National Association of County and City Health Officials defines Environmental Justice as the right to a safe, healthy, productive, and sustainable environment, where "environment" is considered in its totality to include the ecological, physical, social, political, aesthetic, and economic environment. Environmental Justice addresses the disproportionate environmental risks borne by low-income communities and communities of color resulting from poor housing stock, poor nutrition, lack of access to healthcare, unemployment, underemployment, and employment in the most hazardous jobs.
I have worked in the environmental field for the past decade, as an employee in state government and a consultant to non-profit organizations. As a consultant, I helped clients build capacity and coordinate environmental programs, policies, and system changes. For the past five years, I have also been involved in a neighborhood business district revitalization project. In working to attract investment to a district bordered by neighborhoods where residents are mostly non-white, I learned about institutional racism, historic preservation, community building and neighborhood empowerment.
Taking on Environmental Justice at the county-level allows me to tap into and combine all of my past work experience and passions and build on them. The leadership at Ingham County Health Department understands and cares about social determinants of health, and is committed to “going upstream” an examining the polices, systems and environments that lead to worse health outcomes for people of color and lower incomes. We are working to change the root causes of health disparities. I love the fact that I can work in a large organization and remain connected to community groups and residents. I enjoy working at the grassroots level, finding out what is important to people and helping create more collaborative and healthy communities.
Follow me on Twitter @jessicayorko