Telley Madina, Oxfam America’s coastal communities program officer, just returned from Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where he visited with Oxfam America’s partner organization Zion Travelers Cooperative Center (ZTCC).
Reverend Tyrone Edwards, Founding Executive Director of ZTCC, is a lifelong community organizer and a tireless advocate for coastal communities affected by hurricanes and last year’s BP oil spill. Edwards often says that if coastal erosion and the emission of gas and other toxins are allowed to continue, our children’s future will be robbed. That’s one reason that his organization started a program to educate and involve Louisiana youth in coastal restoration, hurricane protection, and the broader environmental movement.
I saw firsthand how the kids ZTTC works with feel connected to the environment. Since most of them are teenagers, they remember what Katrina did to their lives. When I visited with them, they were preparing to plant seed grass on the side of levees. This work is vital to coastal restoration because the overall objective is to rebuild land, and their work is the starting block for that to happen. The kids seem to be conscious that by fighting to protect and rebuild this land, they are protecting their very futures. As one of the kids jokingly said, “If we don’t fix this place then we won’t live here soon.”
Participating in this work seems to build up their self-esteem as well. One said, “Rev. Edwards is the man because he listens to us. Our opinions are important, and he wants us to back them up with work. If we think of something to do, he’ll say let’s go do it and see what happens.”
Edwards has been doing community organizing and youth empowerment for 41 years. He makes sure these young people have a place at the table for whatever he’s working on because he realizes that coastal restoration may not be completed in his lifetime, so he wants to make sure he can hand the mantle off to the next generation to make sure the work gets done.
These kids’ energy and capacity to understand the magnitude of what’s happening in Plaquemines Parish continues to inspire me. Edwards would assert that he could fix Plaquemines with enough money and the kids in his program.