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Free Environmental Health Conference Hopes to Help Harlem Be More Healthy

By Gustavo Solis | March 25, 2015 12:03pm
 Kelly Gillen, 23, program coordinator for Harlem Grown, picks strawberries with a student from P.S. 175. June 8, 2013
Kelly Gillen, 23, program coordinator for Harlem Grown, picks strawberries with a student from P.S. 175. June 8, 2013
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DNAinfo/Farran Powell

HARLEM — Scholar and activist Tyson-Lord Gray has four graduate degrees, is pursuing a law degree and has traveled the world, but his latest project is to help his Harlem neighbors live healthier lives.  

Gray is organizing an environmental conference, called "Plugging In," at the Corinthian Baptist Church on April 18, with a host of lectures on topics including food, justice, conservation, environmental activism and recycling, Gray said.

The conference will focus on practical applications like connecting neighbors with local farms and teaching people how to switch to a renewable energy supplier — not just theory, he added.

“I want a more tangible way of connecting with communities than being at an academic conference,” Gray said. “They don’t always have traction for the people being affected by these issues. So this is a way for me to take what I’ve gathered and say how do we make this applicable.”

Majora Carter — a local advocate who founded Sustainable South Bronx and won a Peabody Award for her work in the "Promised Land," a public radio program that focuses on environmental issues — will be the keynote speaker, Gray said.

Guests will also get a chance to learn about local organizations like Harlem Grown, a greenhouse that grows fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs and gives them away for free.

“Most of the stuff we grow our children had never heard of it before, so we were sending things home and some parents didn’t know how to prepare it,” Harlem Grown founder Tony Hillery said. “I like to say we go beyond the food kitchen. Here you actually do the work and through that work you get educated.”

Harlem has a long history of activism and has suffered through the brunt of public health issues, Gray said. This free conference is one way of addressing that, he said.

“Just look at the history of environmental justice specifically and you notice it is most often minority communities that are most affected by environmental issues,” he said. “Our community is particularly plagued with these environmental risks, and rarely is that a topic of conversation.”