June 3, 2015
I’ve been involved with air quality work since 2009, my freshman year of high school. I got involved because my brother Davonte is a REEP alum. The Air Quality Team attracted me because my whole family has asthma except me – it touches home so I wanted to make a difference. DERO focuses on neighborhoods that aren’t really looked at. It shows that our neighborhoods are not full of negativity, that they’re not a bad place to be. When people think of Boston, they think of Newbury Street, but they don’t think of Blue Hill Ave or places like Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan that have higher asthma rates.
One of my favorite moments, probably one of everyone’s favorite moments, was the public hearing in December 2011 we had at City Hall. There were so many people in that room—high school students with masks on their faces, the whole REEP family there—and it was just a good feeling, all of us and four city councilors. It was good to know that someone in a position of power heard where you’re coming from and agreed. It’s a good feeling and that’s what made me want to stay even though it was not easy at all.
It took my until my junior year to actually understand all the complicated information—you don’t learn that in high school! It was such a technical campaign, and it was a select group that wanted to be a part of it. You have to learn everything to do the work—have the inside scoop from City Council, know about the construction happening in your neighborhood, and after you have all the information, you have to explain it. I remember explaining what asthma was to kids at REEP’s summer camp. Once they got that, they understood filters and we had the concept: If we don’t have filters on buses, diesel gets trapped in our lungs and that causes asthma. They said, “But we don’t have asthma,” and we broke it down and explained that diesel could cause it and they started asking us what we were going to do about it, so we introduced DERO.
After DERO is signed, we’re going to keep track of it and make sure it’s actually implemented. I’m not going to put in all that work for nothing. We can look at the results with AirBeat – our air monitoring station in Dudley Square. Hospital rates are going to go down and asthma attacks are going to go down.
To the next generation of youth organizers, I would say: Don’t start something you’re not going to finish. You have to care about it and really want to make a change—you have to really care to put your heart into it. Once I had all the information, I wanted to do something about it.
After long hours in City Hall, always meeting new people, I just want to celebrate. It’s a celebration because there are people that have been working on DERO since the beginning and we finally got something we need and want.