Pursue a career where you will always be in demand and have the ability to help those who are less fortunate than you. These are the words of my father. A man who selflessly dedicated himself to not only his family, but also to his patients on a daily basis. This dedication to his family and community imprinted on me. Growing up, I would always talk about how I too would be a medical doctor like my father before me, but my academic interests never aligned with subject matter needed to acquire those credentials. This did not stop my pursuit of academic excellence within the arts and social sciences. Having an early introduction to the works of scholars and authors such as Nikki Giovianni, W.E.B. DuBois, Ayn Rand, Chinua Achebe, and Malcolm X helped mold my intellectually curiosity. A curiosity that would lead me to study the conditions of my people within all fields of academic endeavor and allow for me to choose which path is best for me to take.
The autonomy to choose, allowed for me to discover what career path would fulfil my purpose in life while being able to serve my community. The challenge was finding an issue that afflicted my community that could be analyzed within a sociological framework. It was not until my first semester of graduate school that I would stumble upon that area of study. The study of energy. Not just the production and sale of it, but the societal impacts these actions have. I became curious regarding the latent effects of the procurement of oil and natural gas in the Permian basin and the development of new nuclear power plants in Georgia and in what ways these behaviors effected communities of color. Then, an epiphany occurred. A new paradigm of thought and study defined as environmental justice was introduced to me by the works of Dr. Robert Bullard. What I learned from Dr. Bullard teachings was that a just transition to a renewable energy future was needed because of the damage caused to rural and low-income communities as a result of the country’s energy portfolio.
This awakening led me to what I had been yearning for. Which was an opportunity to take part in a fellowship that would be paramount to my future success. My experience at Spark Northwest was that. This is so, because as a young man of color, studying an interdisciplinary topic such as environmental justice, I sought vehemently to be in an environment that was conducive to learning. Spark Northwest fulfilled that yearning. I cannot stress the importance of being around scholars and change agents within the field, from diverse backgrounds, that stretched my understanding of the sustainability, energy justice, and equity topics. This engagement was important to me, because with the contemporary status of the Environmental Justice movement, I have seen that the federal government will not take the lead on these issues. The work, the effort, and the momentum must come from those it effects directly. Not by those who are not affected directly by these issues.
Alexis Cureton recently graduate from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs focusing on energy and policy analysis. He has an interest in energy burden and efficiency issues in minority and low-income areas of the country. Having received his undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University in sociology, Alexis hopes to bring topics of sustainability and renewable energy to the forefront of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.