The People's Justice Academy
The People's Justice Academy believes that loving our neighbor means to equip our neighbors with the tools to build power from the grassroots up.
We believe that the right to clean air, clean water, and clean energy were given by the Creator, therefore it is a human right. We provide tools to communities experiencing disproportionate impacts due to industry-related pollution to build power to fight for their own justice and equity. We do this through leadership development and organizing workshops.
What are we doing?
We are training leaders from communities of faith and communities at large to be the leaders of the fight for community justice. We do this by providing technical assistance to community leaders; creating spaces for resource sharing and networking; providing workshops on organizing methods; using our established platforms to highlight environmental justice communities and issues and work to create a more just distribution of funds.
Who are we?
We are concerned clergy and citizens seeking to serve our community. We understand what it means to be a neighbor. Being a neighbor means that we understand that we are as impacted by pollution and poverty just as our neighbors are. This is personal. We work with communities that are suffering from the disproportionate impacts of environmental injustice. We understand that environmental injustice also magnifies other stressors such as health and economics. Through partnerships, The PJC hosts workshops that inform and inspire on ways to build power to fight against the disproportionate impacts of pollution.
Why are we doing this?
We do this because it is our call as Stewards of Creation, and we do this because we care. For many years, residents have suspected that their extremely poor health conditions and low property values are related to nearby industrial sites. The locals believe that asthma, cancer, and other illnesses are much worse in their neighborhood than in others. We are here to provide tools to these residents so that they can fight for justice for their community.
Will this change anything?
Building power from the grassroots up is a proven method for getting things done. Any movement that has had any lasting change has been done through grassroots.
How can you help?
We need your help. Whether you would like to be a volunteer, donate time, funds, or any other way you'd like to help us out, please visit this section.
A Brief History
In the 1950s and 60s, North Birmingham became the epicenter of the Birmingham civil rights movement. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights were based in the Collegeville neighborhood that, together with a handful of other neighborhoods, makeup North Birmingham. In North Birmingham today three out of four school children have asthma and adults who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives are dying of COPD. Something is not right. In the early 1970s, Birmingham’s air pollution was so bad that it became the first place in the country that the emergency powers of the newly enacted Clean Air Act were used. On November 15th, 1971, twenty-three major polluters were forced to stop operations for almost two weeks just to bring pollution levels down to a reasonable level. In Birmingham, the history of the environment and the history of race and class relations are inseparable.
Birmingham is located at the southern terminus of the Appalachian mountain range. The city is nestled in the Jones Valley between two mountains. Because of its geography, thermal inversion layers form when there are excessive amounts of pollution, which trap toxic air in the city. When Birmingham neighborhoods were “redlined” in 1926, most of the city’s African Americans were zoned together with heavy industry into North Birmingham. And this toxic legacy continues today.
North Birmingham is now home to heavy industry and economically impoverished African American residents. With the ABC Coke (owned by Drummond Coal) and Walter Coke/ERP plants in North Birmingham and the neighboring City of Tarrant—among the largest producers of coke in the world—its residents are still disproportionately exposed to toxins in the air, soil, and water. North Birmingham’s K-8 school, for instance, is within a mile radius of the plants.
Concerned residents and their allies have not been idle, however. For decades, North Birmingham residents have been trying to clean up the polluted air and soil that’s slowly poisoning them and their children to death and suppressing academic performance and quality of life. But when they try, they are told that they have no proof of their incapacitating and deadly health problems are caused by the emission-spewing coal plants next door. Eventually, they got the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency, who conducted a series of preliminary tests that indicated contamination levels that could be associated with poor public health. They found levels of arsenic, lead, and benzo(a)pyrene above acceptable levels in 400 properties. The EPA declared the area the 35th Avenue Superfund Site, but with so many Superfund sites across the country, only those on the National Priorities List tend to get the attention and funds necessary for a successful clean-up.
During a campaign to both expand the 35th Avenue Superfund site to include the areas around the Drummond Coal site in Tarrant and add the 35th Avenue site to the National Priorities List, things got ugly. In light of what came to light during a federal trial that resulted in at least three convictions for bribery and corruption, we now know that coal industry agents paid government, community, and political leaders to block the campaign to clean up North Birmingham. This included obstructing scientific research, spreading misinformation, and persuading residents that the NPL listing would reduce property values. Industry and their allies tried to buy their way into polluting with impunity. Even though a Drummond Coal executive, one of their top lawyers, and an elected state representative are now sentenced to federal prison, the clean-up effort remains minimal and the neighborhood residents are still facing debilitating health issues.
So the People's Justice Academy is now working with residents, volunteers, and active citizens to become witnesses through community health science. With a rigorous, well-designed health census study and mapping project, we can identify possible correlations between residents’ health problems and pollution from the coal plants. Until now, powerful groups and powerful individuals have profited by keeping these residents’ suffering invisible. We believe it is about time to make ourselves witnesses by making visible what industry has tried to hide. And we plan to do it with clipboards, health surveys, GIS devices, and volunteers from local high schools, HBCUs, churches, and other concerned citizen groups. We believe it is time to turn neighbor into a verb and research into testimony. It is time to work against the toxic history of pollution and race in North Birmingham through citizen-driven science that matters.
There are a number of ways that you can support the People's Justice Academy.
If you are interested in being a part of The People's Justice Council, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at:
We'd love to have you be on The People's Justice Council!
Support the Project
The People's Justice Academy is largely driven by volunteers and community members. We depend on the help and support of others to carry out this urgent work.
Here are some ways you can help out:
We need people who can let us borrow a van or a meeting space.
We also need partners who can support the People's Justice Academy through financial contributions.
Please fill out this form if you are able to help to support the project.
Someone from the People's Justice Academy will follow up with you.
The People’s Justice Academy is carried out with collaboration from:
Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship
Black Warrior Riverkeepers
GASP for Clean Air
Sierra Club of Alabama
Alabama Interfaith Power & Light
Greater Birmingham Ministries
University of Montevallo
University of Alabama Birmingham
Alabama River Keepers
New Alpha CDC
NAACP Climate and Justice Program
Sierra Club Environmental Justice & Community Partnerships Program
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness
United Methodist Church Creation Care
Southeast Faith Leaders Network
Interfaith Power and Light
Southeast Climate and Energy Network
Advancing Equity and Opportunity Network
US Climate Action Network
Climate Action Network International
Loving Our Neighbor
We stand by three great loves: Love of Children, Love of Creation and Love of Nature.
Our expression of this love is shown through our education and advocacy for Environmental Justice. It is our belief that Environmental Justice is the solution for the climate change crisis that we face. We will not stop until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Would you help us in loving our neighbors?