Honoring Black History Month and the Path Towards Energy Justice: Hollis Briggs of Wilmington, NC

This blog is the first in our 2016 Black History Month series honoring advocates and opportunities to advance energy justice. Information for this blog was taken from a phone interview with Hollis Briggs of Wilmington, North Carolina. To read other blogs in this series, click here.

Hollis Briggs (second to the right) with Dr. Bernice King daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and members of Wilmington's MLK Celebration Committee.

Wilmington North Carolina is a small coastal town in Southeastern North Carolina. It has pristine beaches that meet the mouth of the state’s largest river system known at the Cape Fear River. This daunting name has historical significance that serves as a great metaphor for the town’s deeply rooted justice issues that many Wilmingtonians fear bringing up. But Hollis Briggs is not like most Wilmington residents.

“A voice for the voiceless”

During my time living in Wilmington, I had the pleasure of working alongside Hollis to plan the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. parade. Under Hollis’ leadership for the past 14 years, this event has grown from a single parade to multiple events all over town spanning a week that lift up the importance of justice and equality. Hollis created the MLK celebrations “to fill a void in our community.” Hollis saw a need to address and improve racial relations in Wilmington and enhance the visibility of positive achievements and contributions of African Americans throughout history.

“We needed a voice for the voiceless,” said Hollis. “Oftentimes the voiceless are not even aware that they are voiceless.”

Being voiceless is unfortunately quite common when it comes to energy issues that disproportionately affect minority families in Wilmington and throughout the Southeast.

“Average folks don’t always connect energy to their everyday lives even though it’s one of the most needed resources,” said Hollis.

And therein lies the challenge in working for solutions that benefit the “voiceless.” Through collaborative and inclusive work, SACE and allies are working to right this wrong.

For example, SACE has been very vocal about the importance of including diverse perspectives as the nation begins implementing the first-ever regulations on carbon emissions from power plants. SACE also works to combat coal ash pollution which results when the toxic waste left from burning coal for electricity enters our lakes, rivers and groundwater. This dangerous, toxic waste caught national attention during the Dan River Coal Ash spill near the North Carolina and Virginia border in 2014 and after the Kingston Coal Ash spill in Tennessee in 2008. Cleaning up coal ash comes with its own set of challenges because more often than not, ‘cleaning up’ might mean moving the toxic problem to a low-income community, as is the case for Perry County, Alabama in the aftermath of TVA’s Kingston spill.

Back to Hollis for some sound advice that is particularly relevant to addressing complex issues like environmental racism.

“There isn’t but one way to eat an elephant – one bite at a time,” said Hollis. “I try to make a difference everyday that I wake up.”

Along these lines, SACE will continue to work day by day with good folks like Hollis to create a cleaner, more just future for America.

To follow the good work being done by Wilmington’s MLK Celebration Committee, check out their Facebook page.

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