Eco-entrepreneur Majora Carter Delivers Global Keynote Address at Westtown School

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Westtown School welcomed eco-entreprenteur Majora Carter to its West Chester, PA, campus to deliver the school's first annual Global Keynote Address on September 25. Carter, a MacArthur Genius Fellow whose work in the South Bronx has been transformative to the community, presented a lecture that reinforced Westtown global competencies of innovation, initiative, civic responsibiliity and sustainability.

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Majora Carter delivers the Global Keynote Address at Westtown School

Look no further than your own back yard, because environmental challenges are everywhere. Working to solve the local ones can have an impact far beyond your own community.

Westtown School, a Quaker college preparatory school in West Chester, PA, welcomed eco-entrepreneur Majora Carter on September 25, 2011, when she delivered Westtown’s first annual Global Keynote Address. Her lecture, entitled “Home(town) Security,” opened the school’s 2011-12 season of Shoemaker Events, made possible by an endowed fund created to bring leading thinkers and performers to Westtown’s campus.

Majora Carter's Shoemaker visit is consistent with Westtown’s vision for global education. Although the school’s program offers a range of international options for students, it is also global in scope, preparing graduates for life in a diverse and interconnected world where change is the one constant. Carter’s lecture highlighted global competencies that are at the heart of a Westtown education, among them civic responsibility – students acting as responsible local and global citizens in the interests of a larger community – and sustainability. Carter also lifted up for the Westtown audience of approximately 450 the skills and competencies that serve her in her own work: creativity, initiative, perseverance, an ability to perceive and act on the big picture, and most important, an abiding concern for humankind.

Carter wove threads of her personal story into the Westtown lecture, explaining that during her lifetime the South Bronx went from an economically diverse neighborhood to a virtual wasteland as a consequence of poorly-considered urban planning initiatives, white flight and generational poverty. She spoke about the environmental burdens that are disproportionately placed on communities such as the South Bronx, communities that possess the fewest resources to resist them. These include poor air quality from municipal and industrial waste handling, power generation, and sewerage treatment facilities. She noted a Columbia University study linking proximity to fossil fuel burning sources and learning disabilities in children, in addition to ER visits for acute asthma attacks at a rate four times that of the national average. But Majora Carter also conveyed a message of hope – again using examples from her own experience – about community members who reclaimed green space in their neighborhoods, pointing to the grass-roots effort that led to the creation of Hunts Point Riverside Park, the first South Bronx waterfront park in 60 years when it opened in 2006.

Host of the Peabody Award-winning public radio series "The Promised Land," Majora Carter is a MacArthur "Genius" Fellow and serves on the boards of the US Green Building Council and The Wilderness Society. Majora Carter founded and led Sustainable South Bronx from 2001-2008, when few were talking about sustainability anywhere, especially in places like the South Bronx, which she described as the “poster child” for urban blight. She coined the term "Green the Ghetto" in 2003 as she pioneered one of the nation's first urban green-collar job training and placement systems, also spearheading legislation that fueled demand for these jobs. Her 2006 TEDtalk was one of 6 presentations to launch that groundbreaking website.

Since 2008, Carter's consulting company has exported climate adaptation, urban micro-agribusiness, and leadership development strategies for business, government, foundations, universities and under-performing communities. She is currently seeking funding to repurpose the infamous Bridges Juvenile Detention Center, also known as Spofford, a Bronx facility that was closed in March 2011. Carter envisions a business-attracting community hub with shops, restaurants and a farmers’ market that will bring healthy food options to a community that currently has few.

According to Majora Carter, Westtown students asked good questions, including what they themselves could do to support sustainable environmental initiatives. Her answer was deceptively simple: look no further than your own back yard and work with what you know. The takeaway for students was that challenges are everywhere, and working to solve the local ones can have an impact far beyond one’s own community.

Majora Carter is the most recent in a long line of Shoemaker visitors who have come to Westtown’s campus and worked closely with students at the school. Beginning in the early 1960s with the poet Robert Frost, they have included such luminaries as Coretta Scott King, Elie Wiesel, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz, singer Pete Seeger and the Philadanco dance troupe, along with many others.

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