As a little girl growing up in St. James Parish, Louisiana, my family lived off the land. We raised cattle, sowed seeds, and fished the Mississippi River. But what used to be our lifeblood has now turned to poison. Where there were once fig and pecan trees, there are now petrochemical plants. Known to many, including yourself, as "Cancer Alley," with more than 200 deadly plants along an 85-mile stretch of the Mississippi River, my hometown is quickly becoming Death Row.
I used to be a special education teacher, a profession I know you admire deeply. Led by God, I left the teaching profession in 2019 to fight for environmental justice full-time in my community. After watching too many in my community become sick, I founded RISE St. James, a faith-based, grassroots environmental organization that started from just one small meeting in my den with my daughter, Shamell, taking notes.
At first we didn't know why we were getting sick. Around us, our family and friends were suddenly falling victim to debilitating illnesses. It felt like almost every day another loved one was receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and we couldn't figure out why. But it didn't take long to connect these illnesses to the rise of petrochemical plants in our backyards.
When these fancy fossil fuel CEOs marched into our predominantly Black neighborhoods and promised us good jobs and financial freedom, we didn't even have time to bat an eye. We could never have imagined that years later these same companies would turn our land and everything that grows from it into poison.
St. James Parish now has the most polluted air in America, with cancer rates more than 50 percent higher than the national average. Our air is quite literally killing us, and no one seems to really mind. Sure, there have been promises. You yourself uttered the words "Cancer Alley," during your first week in office, something very few politicians of your stature have been willing to do. This has given us hope, and when you sent EPA Administrator Michael Reagan down to visit me and other activists, we were encouraged that change will come.
However, we are still dying, struggling to breath polluted air and without clean water to drink. Our gardens are producing inedible vegetables, and our bath water leaves us itching for days. I myself have developed autoimmune hepatitis and was found to have aluminum and lead in my body after years of living next to mega-polluting chemical plants. It is as if we have been written off as sacrifice zones, an entire community exchanged for a corporate profit. But you can save us. You must save us.
President Biden, I am coming to D.C to honor the hundreds of lives that have been taken from us due to the petrochemical and fossil fuel industry. Joining me will be dozens of other activists who have lost loved ones, and we will be holding a New Orleans style second line funeral procession that will end at your front door. Please meet me there. Let us talk about how we can save my communities and the others like it.
These petrochemical plants are cutting our lives short, and our children are being robbed of their futures. As a fellow devout Catholic and grandparent, I am making a personal plea to you, President Biden. Please save us. You too understand the gut-wrenching pain of losing a loved one to cancer. Help to make it so that no one else in St. James Parish has to feel this pain. Use your power to declare Cancer Alley a State of Emergency, especially St. James Parish, declare a climate emergency, halt the petrochemical build out in the Gulf South and help our children and grandchildren to live long, healthy lives. Meet me in Washington, D.C on October 25th and let us save our children and grandchildren's futures, together.