C.H.E.S.S. in Africatown

An overflow crowd of more than 150 people showed up despite a downpour of rain to attend a community meeting sponsored by two organizations that have come together to help the Africatown community in its ongoing struggle to achieve environmental, economic, educational and social justice. A new local community organization know as C.H.E.S.S which stands for Clean, Healthy, Educated, Safe & Sustainable community and DSCEJ or Deep South Center for Environmental Justice co-hosted the meeting to introduce themselves to Africatown residents.

C.H.E.S.S can best be explained by describing what each letter in the word CHESS stands for.

C stands for clean. We want to ensure that Africatown is always a clean and well manicured community. Africatown already has a crew of residents that cut grass whenever they can. We want to create a pool of funds that will pay them to cut old and disabled residents' yards free of charge on a regular schedule. They will also be paid to cut overgrown private vacant lots. This summer a group of Africatown supporters had to have a private meeting with our city councilman and Mobile's Mayor to have the local community center power washed and painted so it would look better. This should not have had to happen. All city community centers should be maintained equally. We will meet with any politicians necessary to ensure that taxpayers money is used equally to keep Africatown clean and well groomed. All run down houses and buildings will be renovated and only destroyed as a last resort.

H stands for healthy. We want to ensure that a community surrounded by heavy industry is monitored on a regular basis to ensure the children of the community are not negatively affected when they are born and as they grow into adulthood. Air, water and soil monitors should be set up in strategic locations and monitored often. Local, state and national environmental agencies should submit an annual report to the Africatown community reporting on their environmental findings for the year. A healthy consumption of food is also a concern. Africatown is a food desert. There is no store or food outlet of any kind within 5 miles of the community. We will address that problem. The children of Africatown must be born healthy and eat healthy to grow into a healthy, productive and responsible citizen of Mobile.

E stands for educated. The adults and children of the community must be educated properly. There should be no failing school and no failing families to have a non-failing community. The children are our future. If they are taught about the importance of growing up in a clean and safe environment, there is a good chance that the community will be clean and safe in the future. The adults in the community will be taught how to monitor the environment for themselves. They in turn will pass on that knowledge to their children. Sports will be a big part of the educational process for the children. Right now Africatown does not have a municipal park, only a play ground that is so small it can not accommodate anyone over the age of ten. According to the Africatown Plan --  that the city paid $50,000 to produce -- residents want to utilize the area around the community center as Africatown's municipal park.

S stands for safe. No black on black crime. No police brutality. No domestic violence. A drug free zone. This one should be easy because all the aforementioned already exists in Africatown. The Africatown Plan calls for walking, biking, hiking and boating trails. A well kept and safe community will make all trails more enjoyable.

S stands for sustainable. The last word is the most important part of the organization. Everything that is done to help the community must be done to last forever. Stores, schools, municipal parks, housing, welcome centers, museums, etc. should all be developed in a way to last forever. Africatown as a community was incorporated in 1870 and the future planning of all areas (Hog Bayou,Plateau, Magazine, Happy Hills, Kelly Hills and Lewis Quarters) should be done in a way that insures a prosperous survival of the community.

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C.H.E.S.S is made up of Africatown residents, Africatown natives and Africatown supporters. The board of directors consists of five people who are residents and natives of Africatown. Those in charge of daily operations are Africatown natives, descendents or have long time connections to the community. The Africatown supporters consist of members of the Alumni Association and MEJAC as well as others that want to help the community survive and thrive.

The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice was founded by Dr. Robert Bullard, Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy at Texas Southern University and Dr. Beverly Wright, Executive Director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. Upon receiving a $3.25 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation, they were able to establish The HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Consortium of which Africatown is a member. The consortium was designed to improve the health and well being of children and families in selected communities in the Gulf Coast region. Members of the consortium are dedicated leaders of community based organizations and accomplished professors at historically black colleges and universities. The consortium is designed to listen to community concerns first and then provide education and training on identified issues and prepare community residents to have a voice on critical issues. The HBCU-CBO Gulf Coast Equality Consortium is designed with the aim of leaving each community better off than they were when they joined the consortium.

Gulf coast organizations and communities that make up the consortium include: Unity in the Family Ministry from Pensacola, Florida; CHESS from Africatown, Alabama; Turkey Creek Community Initiatives from Gulfport, Mississippi; the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development from New Orleans and Achieving Community Tasks Successfully from Houston, Texas.  Historically black colleges & universities that are included in the consortium include Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, Dillard University, Jackson State University, Tennessee State University and Texas Southern University.