Lawanna Gelzer, President of the NAN Central Florida Chapter, was featured on an Environmental Justice panel discussion, titled Killing US Softly: Environmental Threats To Our Future, during the three-day national convention in New York City earlier this month.
Gelzer shed a little sunshine on the environmental concerns in downtown Orlando and Parramore during the National Action Network convention. The focus of this panel was to address the impact of environmental issues that often times hurt poor communities, especially in communities of color that are directly related environmental hazards.
“You all come to Disney, but you need to know what’s really going on, the other side of Orlando,” Gelzer said, making a play on words with the region’s new marketing motto ‘Orlando – you don’t know the half of it.’
Gelzer told the Parramore story to a national audience and also warned others to prepare for a fight with local government, including the fight for information and transparency. Gelzer also talked about building local coalitions and partnerships. It was clear Gelzer’s remarks resonated with the audience, who routinely applauded her comments.
A year ago, the Fight Back Coalition, co-chaired by Gelzer and myself, joined the National Action Network, the Central Florida Democratic Environmental Caucus and members of the local Sierra Club chapter to launch an awareness campaign and release a shocking detailed ground contamination map for the 1.4 square-mile Parramore neighborhood, showing 454 contaminated site locations just within Parramore.
“A lot of times, when they do get the funding to improve our community, to make economic development, it moves us out,” Gelzer said. “It’s not for us. It’s for sports venues and other things.”
Gentrification became a hot topic of the panel discussion. Gelzer was able to talk about the impact of gentrification to Parramore and downtown Orlando after other members of the panel and members of the audience raised the problem facing minority communities.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up contamination at the site of the planned Major League Soccer stadium and the future site of Creative Village. Tens of thousands of Parramore residents have left the community or been pushed out of the historic African-American neighborhood. City policies have consistently ignored the needs of struggling residents and business owners in favor of Dyer’s large venues like the MLS stadium or insider development deals like Creative Village with Craig Ustler.
“This is a civil rights issue,” Gelzer said to applause from the crowd.
Gelzer joined an impressive panel including Sierra Club National Environmental Justice Director Leslie Fields, NAACP Director of Environmental and Climate Justice Jacqueline Patterson, and other national figures. More background on the panel discussion can be found here.