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Special Edition: Environmental Injustice at Ezra Prentice Homes

By: Sean Wilson & Liz DeSantis

Many of our children and their families that live in the South End of Albany CANNOT breathe, and this is unacceptable and frankly inhumane. Something needs to happen so that the residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes can breathe air that is safe to inhale, air that does not contain chemicals that sound like something you would find in a college inorganic chemistry textbook. The following blog will describe an Environmental Justice Committee, of which, Marc Johnson, Interim Executive Director of AVillage…, Inc. is a part, as well as how that committee will tirelessly work to combat environmental injustice in Albany and across the State of New York.

It is a quiet fall day and trucks have lined up, single file, waiting, waiting, waiting for the start of the day. The morning begins with an engine reviving and the distinct and depressing sound of diesel trucks. The drivers keep the trucks in idle in anticipation for a call from a boss or manager. From there they begin completing daily routes, transporting oil and gas, garbage, cement, etc. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. But hold on, there is more. There is a loud noise off in the distance. A figure is slowly approaching its destination. The sound has amplified. It is a train; and that train is carrying gasoline and ethanol. Let the toxic assault begin.

Each day more than a thousand trucks and the conspicuous and notorious bomb trains pass through the Port of Albany; each day our children and families suffer. Potent and carcinogenic toxins inundate the residents. Asthma, respiratory illness other than asthma, and allergies are common – the numbers do not lie. A grey cloud lingers. When will it all end?

The answer is hopefully soon. Marc Johnson of AVillage…, Inc. has assumed a role on the Environmental Justice and Just Transition Group. The goal of the committee is to help the state transition from an economy that relies on fossil fuel; in addition to helping the state transition to a green economy, the committee will also work to integrate environmental justice principles into state policies, regulations, and legislation. As a member of the group, he will advise policy makers on issues that relate to environmental injustice, as well as advocate for sustainable economic transitions in areas that have been impacted by environmental issues. Although Marc will collaborate with stakeholders to encourage the adoption of policies, laws, and regulations at the state level, his main priority, however, is to initiate action at the local level, specifically as it relates to Ezra Prentice. His intent is to gather traffic data from the Department of Transportation, that shows the number of trucks that drive pass the housing project on the way to the Port of Albany and nearby facilities; furthermore, he would like to acquire data from various Departments of Health to demonstrate a correlation between the amount of traffic, the bomb trains, and the industrial park, and rates of, for instance, asthma. In the end, Marc would hold those companies polluting and affecting the quality of life of South End residents, accountable. As Marc stated, “Because of the harm it has already caused, I would like health issues to be addressed. I would like free screening and free health examinations to determine what issues in our community are affecting our health.”

Albany bomb trains transport over 150,000 barrels of oil.[1] These trains run too close to a historically oppressed community. Not only are these trains susceptible to an explosion, but they emit potent and often carcinogenic toxins that humans breathe. Aside from the trains that poison families, approximately 1,000-diesel trucks drive pass the homes each day, trucks that emit soot pollution into the air; this, as well as the trains, are contributing to growing rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses. With these issues affecting the South End community, it is the goal of the Environmental Justice and Just Transition Group to progress toward a green economy. Going forward, the committee will adopt sound, prudent policies, legislations, and regulations that end the environmental assault. The people of the Ezra Prentice homes WILL BREATHE AGAIN.

Work Cited



Wendell B. Sings AVillage's Praises

by Mahalia Cummings

Through performing and being among the attendees of Mississippi Day, Wendell B. got a piece of home right here in the South End. Wendell B.’s energy is magnetic. The connection that was forged between he and the people of the South End was electric. The soul and power that he brought was reflected right back to him. Albany’s residents sang along to hit after hit with the sensation as he performed in the Lincoln Park Bowl on that warm Saturday afternoon. Although it has been over a week since he performed, AVillage is still bubbling with excitement over what he brought to the South End. In his own words, Wendell represents “the real side of music”. It’s not just about bringing a few hit songs, it’s about delivering talent that serves as a vehicle for love, warmth, and a familial spirit. “I just wanted to make sure that I left AVillage and Albany with a touch of Wendell. That’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to make sure they knew me. And that when I left, they would remember me.”

They most definitely will. People felt the music. It was palpable. The people of the South End sang along from somewhere deep, reveling in an afternoon that was meant for family, homeland celebration, and the reigniting of history. And what drove our featured performer to culminate all of that with honest-to-God good music? To bring his very best to the community? The answer is simple. “My biggest push while I was there was Willie White. This man was unbelievable.”  Wendell continues, “He reminded me of myself. He’s a professional. He wants to get it. And he wants to get it right. His push, his drive is just - Oh my god. How could you let this guy down? How?“

Wendell admires Willie White’s mobilizing spirit. He admires what he brings to young people, whose approval and engagement strike him as a marker for success whether it be in activism or in music. In Wendell’s eyes, the relevance of a movement and of a musician is inextricably linked to the engagement of the youth. This was demonstrated in one of the most significant parts of the event: the march from Old St. John’s Church of God in Christ. When Wendell saw the parade go by, he was awestruck: “There were so many young people behind him,” he says, speaking of Willie. “And that’s what made me really say: ‘this guy is a force to reckon with.’ He really is because it’s our youngsters nowadays that we are sincerely concerned about. And so to find so many young people behind him was very impressive to Wendell B - to my whole staff - we were just... we were impressed. So my whole drive while I was there was Willie.”

Young people were just as impressed with Wendell B. at Mississippi Day. One young man came up to Wendell and expressed surprise at how much he sounded like his records. Wendell and I note how hard young people can be to impress. He has a discerning spirit about many things when it comes to business, but he also has an eye for what resonates with people. Wendell, like many others, could see the tangible evidence of AVillage’s impact. The everlasting impact that the South End had on him is intertwined with AVillage. “All I can tell you is AVillage. AVillage. These people here are on something so positive and so fulfilling that who would come there and miss that? Where they can walk past the people who are not with them and still that person knows: ‘Hey, that’s AVillage.’. They salute them, they say hey what’s up, or whatever, and still recognize that this is what goes on in our neighborhood here. This is AVillage. So I would say: so much positivity. I was very - I loved it.”

It reminded him of Wesley House, a kind of safe haven for the youth that extended outreach and activism in his community of St. Louis, Missouri as he was growing up. He visited the center often, finding comfort in a solid place of support. He said AVillage struck him with how much it reminded him of that stalwart of his childhood. Much like AVillage, it was a place everybody in the community felt welcome. A place that offered a leader, positive activities, and the opening of possibilities for those who feel limited. Mississippi Day and AVillage are about showing people the possibilities through reaffirming a legacy and giving them hope for a broader and more successful potential future. Wendell B. said that it’s those values that AVillage “took [him] home to”. He lauds people like Miss Clara, whose stories are so rich and crucial to the fabric of what Mississippi Day is about. “Maybe that’s where all of the automatic love comes from. My mama’s from Mississippi, My daddy’s from Alabama. My mother’s whole family are all Mississippi people. All my life I went to Mississippi. This is the reason for the song Mississippi girl.”

And as for those young folks he speaks so highly of? Wendell recognizes the effort of AVillage to provide the tools for young and old to live their fullest lives, with the promise of equity and justice. It’s those foundation blocks that can set people up to truly embrace what they desire to accomplish. When I asked him what he would tell the people of the South End who have a dream, he spoke of the way the world has opened up around social media. “Let’s say for instance a big company like Universal or Warner Brothers’ or so on - so many big companies - they had the power to do things or have your music overseas tomorrow morning at 8’oclock. When this was just impossible for YOU. I mean and that was pretty much the thing that you bought into. Is they could reach what you couldn’t reach. They could do what you couldn’t do.” But he marks the distinct difference of this “new era”. Now, the power is in young people’s hands to control their own narratives, to make themselves known and market themselves. Now, you don’t have to depend on the majors, literal or metaphorical. Wendell recalls being on the other side of success, and being “blessed enough” to get to the new side. He, in a lot of ways, is a mirror for the people living in the South End. He relied on community building when he was growing up, had to take advantage of his opportunities as they came. But, that was then. Whether it’s music or an endeavor that’s entirely different, the theme of the times is opportunity through media, through a kind of innovation that is completely modern.

I ask Wendell to tell me what comes to his mind when I say the word “empowerment”: a core tenant of AVillage’s mission. “Willie White is empowering these young people with this knowledge and this wisdom and this history. That’s what comes to my mind when you say [empowerment].” And it’s clear that this impression is not a dime a dozen. Wendell has been to a lot of places, but he is keenly aware of how special the South End and AVillage are. Wendell talked about those travels and how he processes them. One of the things he tries to do is bring back a memory from each place he visits. It’s safe to say that Albany is added to his list as a standout, and it won’t be the last time he’s here to make memories. “...there’s definitely gonna be time number 2 and 3 and so on and so on,” he says. We can’t wait to welcome Wendell B back.


Wendell B: Captain of His Soul
Wendell Brown sits down with AVillage to talk about the power of music, legacy, and authenticity
By Mahalia Cummings

When I pick up the phone on Wednesday afternoon, a deep baritone sounds through my speaker. Even though I had just recently become acquainted with Wendell’s music, the sound is familiar and comforting. It sounds like the voice of someone whose stories you want to listen to. It’s not a voice that’s lost on Wendell’s fans. They listen to his stories through his songs, and that voice seals the deal. Our conversation is rich and multi-layered: Wendell is not just a big voice. He is a force of positivity and uplifting honesty. His values connect deeply with his fans. “The biggest thing that my fans love about me and my music is I touch something in their life that has happened,” he says. “And they were able to say ‘wow, he is really speaking the truth on this.’ That’s what I carry. I carry truthfulness in my lyrics.”

Wendell B. is a self-actualized and skilled musician. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, gleaning inspiration from his uncles who were in a gospel group. At one time he found himself mimicking them, inspired by how each of them could show their own identity through music. But he found his own sound.

As far as what he hopes to bring to the people who attend Mississippi Day? The answer is within what is arguably his biggest hit: "Mississippi Girl". If Oprah’s standards are anything to judge by (and they most definitely are) the song has definitely made its mark. Wendell tells me that Ms. Winfrey herself has downloaded it. But the song’s meaning is even bigger than that.

 “...this song has had the strength of what Mississippi means in it. You can go all around the world. You can go to London, France, Detroit, Chicago, Italy. You can come all the way back and go to Alabama and bump into a Mississippi girl. The power of Mississippi is one of the reasons I wrote this song. Plus, my mama is a Mississippi girl. So what I bring to AVillage on this weekend is — I hope to let them know that the word Mississippi is where they come from, where their roots are from, and where their strength started from and to let them know that it’s one of the most wonderful words and states that the whole world knows about. And Wendell B is gonna bring it to you.” We can’t wait, Wendell.