Why I’m Running
I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in South Memphis. My dad was an iron worker and my mom worked at the bank. My family of 8 lived in a 3 bedroom house–my two brothers in one room, four girls in another. My great grandparents, who we affectionately called Ma’ Dear and Papa Starling, lived next door.
Ours was a thriving neighborhood with many small businesses – a florist, bank, grocery stores, fresh produce store, cobbler, bakery, drive-in theater, and local restaurants. Everything was within walking distance. There were several parks and about 17 nearby schools. Down the street from my elementary school and junior high school was the Army Defense Depot.
Ma’ Dear grew most of the family fruits and vegetables in our adjoined backyards. Before school, my Uncle Mike, and I would help with the garden. Uncle Mike was Ma’ Dear and Papa’s bonus child that they raised through foster care. Ma’ Dear and Papa provided transitional foster care services for many children. The days Papa Starling was not in the garden with us, he would be busy at the church as an elder or away on fishing or hunting trips. When I was in high school, my mom suffered an on the job back injury that took her out of the workforce. After her back surgery, she had to learn how to walk again. As a result, I assumed a bigger role in the family. My mother taught me how to pay bills and balance the family finances. Ma’Dear and Aunt Lossie taught me how to cook, clean, and help with my siblings. My family and community were strong and full of love.
After I graduated from high school, I started college. 1995 was the year of the Base Closure Act which closed the Army Depot facility. That year I gave birth to my son. Ma’ Dear coached me through breastfeeding while she was dying of cancer. Many people in my neighborhood died of cancer. Sickness and death became more prevalent in my community. After my Ma’ Dear and Papa Starling died, my mother formed the Defense Depot Memphis TN- Concerned Citizen Committee (DDMT-CCC) with over 2500 members, including PTA parents from Norris Elementary, teachers, clergy, local small business owners, and professionals. My father, Kenneth, a brilliant writer, contributed greatly to the organization and served as the first project director. Over half the initial members died within a year due to illnesses related to the depot.
The Army Defense Depot of Memphis was more than a storage and distribution center for the Army. It also served as a 640-acre landfill for any type of material that was disposed, compensated, or stockpiled from any war between 1945 to 1995. Some of the most destructive chemicals used to kill vegetation and human beings were stored there. These chemicals polluted the air, soil, surface water, and ground water of my community. The landfill consisted of unknown and known materials of munitions, chemical warfare agents, germ warfare, nuclear weapons, and biological warfare materials; 395 were known to be linked with cancer. Others have been linked to strokes, heart attacks, asthma, lung disease, birth defects, infertility, miscarriages, low sperm counts, kidney failure, neurological damage, infant mortality, rare and unusual cancers and the list goes on.
This is when and why I got involved in environmental policy.
Over the years I’ve experienced both the highs and lows of a working woman. I’ve worked for nonprofits and corporate America. I’ve had great jobs with a union contract and not so great jobs that came with an employee handbook which seemed to change daily providing no voice for workers. Union jobs offered great pay, excellent health care, healthy working environments, and amazing people.
I’ve been both one job away from middle class and one job-loss away from poverty. There was a period in my life where I was under-employed without adequate health insurance, but plenty of student loan debt. As a result, I experienced a foreclosure and bankruptcy–the ramifications of which still follow me to this day. I am a single, working-class mother; my son is finishing technical college.
I am smart, committed, tenacious, informed, and passionate about our beautiful Tennessee and everyone who calls it home. My environmental justice work has taken me all over the state where I have met and engaged with people who are concerned with labor, environment, education, taxes, trade, and social justice policies. I am ready to serve, engage, and represent the people of Tennessee.