Gems from the Emerald City

Alexis Cureton

“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, but my academic interests never aligned with medicine. Fortunately, this did not stop my pursuit of academic excellence within the arts and social sciences. An early introduction to the works of scholars and authors such as Nikki Giovanni, W.E.B. DuBois, Ayn Rand, Chinua Achebe, and Malcolm X helped develop my intellectual curiosity. This curiosity led me to study the conditions of people of color from different academic perspectives and helped me decide which path was best for me to take.

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The study of different academic disciplines enabled me to discover what career path would best fulfill my purpose in life and empower me to serve communities of color. The challenge was finding an issue that affected my community and could be analyzed within a sociological framework. It was not until my first semester of graduate school that I would stumble upon this issue, energy. I was not just interested in the production and sale of energy, but the societal impacts of energy policy and decision-making. I focused my study on the latent effects of the extraction of oil and natural gas in the Permian basin and the development of new nuclear power plants in Georgia and the impacts of these projects communities of color.

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As I studied these energy projects, I came across Dr. Robert Bullard’s work in environmental justice and had an epiphany. Transitioning to a renewable energy future could relieve the damage caused to rural and low-income communities as a result of the country’s current energy portfolio. This awakening led me to pursue an opportunity that would be paramount to my future success in developing solutions for the communities that I studied. My experience at Spark Northwest was that opportunity. 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 and gave me access to scholars and change agents within the field from diverse backgrounds. They stretched my understanding of sustainability, energy justice, and equity. This engagement was even more important to me because I have seen that the current federal government will not take the lead on issues like Environmental Justice. I believe the work, the effort, and the momentum to tackle this challenge must come directly from the communities impacted by energy justice issues, and must be led by them, not those who are not affected directly by these issues.

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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.