Colleges train poor to help with oil spill

6/2/2010

1:30 P.M. EST May 28, 2010

Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a
controlled fire of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A UMNS photo
courtesy of the U.S. Navy/MC2 Justin Stumberg.
Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
A UMNS photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy/MC2 Justin Stumberg.
View in Photo Gallery

Not long ago, Freddie Redmond was homeless, living in the streets of Atlanta. Now he spends his days on a beach in Mississippi, part of a team that will be cleaning up after the recent oil spill.

And he’s praising God for his new career.

Redmond is one of 75 low-income workers trained in hazardous waste removal by programs at two United Methodist-related historically black colleges.

For the last 15 years, Clark Atlanta University’s Environmental Justice Resource Center and Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in New Orleans have offered the training.

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 has been an opportunity for the graduates to find new employment. The oil began washing up in Louisiana in late May and is expected in Mississippi by the end of the month or early June. More than 7 million gallons of oil has spewed out of the hole since the explosion.

Redmond, 40, and India Bass, 25, recent graduates of the program in Atlanta, are part of a crew in Mississippi preparing for the oil to reach the shore.

“It is a real tragedy, and it will hurt the coastal areas for a long while,” Redmond said. He said the instructors at Clark Atlanta prepared him well for this job.

“It is like they knew this would happen, and they gave me all the knowledge and tools I will need,” he said.

Workers in Venice, La., help clean up the oil spill.  A UMNS Web
only photo by Tracy Johnson.
Workers in Venice, La., help clean up the oil spill.
A UMNS Web only photo by Tracy Johnson.

Bass also praised her instructors and the program.

“I have gained a career,” she said. “It really opened my eyes to some things.”

Training for minorities

Dillard and Clark Atlanta offer the minority worker training programs with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. The minority-worker training program was established in 1995 with the goal to increase the number of minorities in the construction and environmental remediation industries.

The funding provides for basic skills training for residents of communities that are both economically and environmentally disadvantaged, said Myra M. Lewis, assistant director, Dillard University. “Funding also provides technical training in construction and environmental remediation (hazardous waste removal, lead abatement, asbestos abatement and mold remediation). All programs offer ongoing job placement and refresher training for program graduates.”

“The premise of the program is not enough minorities are involved in environmental cleanup, yet most of the pollution is in low-income African-American communities,” said Lisa Sutton, training director at Clark Atlanta.

Lewis said graduates work for companies cleaning beaches in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. The programs include a 40-hour hazardous waste worker certification that is standard for oil spill cleanup.

While the program is aimed at young adults ages 18 to 30, Sutton said there was a 61-year-old woman in the program this year.

Non-traditional students

The program is for non-traditional students, Sutton said. “It is for low-income residents, individuals who were incarcerated and in re-entry programs, for the unemployed or the under-employed.”

Tyronne Jackson, left, a graduate of Dillard University’s Deep
South Center for Environmental Justice program, talks with another
worker on the beach on Dauphin Island.  A UMNS web only photo by Tracy
Johnson.
Tyronne Jackson, left, a graduate of Dillard University’s Deep South Center for Environmental Justice program, talks with another worker on the beach on Dauphin Island.
A UMNS web only photo by Tracy Johnson.

Sutton said the university works with Transition House, a shelter for homeless veterans. “Freddie Redmond lives in the house and is a veteran from Desert Storm.”

Redmond said he was standing in the unemployment line when someone handed him a flier about the program.

“I rushed to sign up,” he said. “I prayed and prayed. I really needed something. Now I am in the green job industry; I help with the environment, and I am getting paid. That really feels good.”

The instructors keep up with their graduates and offer them support and encouragement. “They call most days to check on us,” Redmond said.

“We are so excited, many of our trainees were homeless, to be able to go to Mississippi and take part in this historic event means for a short time they don’t have to worry about what they are going to eat, or where they are going to sleep or if they will be safe. It is a miraculous thing,” Sutton said.

Redmond agrees.

“God has moved mightily in my life. I am honored to be here, honored to serve the state of Mississippi and our country.”

*Gilbert is a writer of 18-34 content at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.