Poor people in an area dubbed "Cancer Alley," located between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, had no explanation three years ago for what was making them sick.
This 150-mile corridor in Louisiana is lined with petro-chemical plants and for years it was a zone of discomfort and fear as scores of cases of unexplained rashes and cancers infested the population.
Seeing a need for action, Xavier University, in 1992, created the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. The center now serves low-income and minority communities in Louisiana, East Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama.
Two more centers, funded by federal grants, have since opened at Clark Atlanta and Hampton universities.
"Often, communities do not have access to the scientific facts regarding the environmental problems they face, and without this information they are powerless," said Dr. Beverly Wright, an Xavier sociologist and director of the New Orleans center.
"Education is the most powerful tool that we have to combat environmental racism," she said. "By forging partnerships with universities, [communities] can be afforded access to the information and analysis they need."
Harsh Words From Critics
But not everyone believes the centers and HBCUs are doing enough to help communities identify and combat environmental racism.
"On a scale of one to 10, I'd give Black universities a zero when it comes to working …