By Paige Parvin 96G
We’re calling this “the green issue.”
It’s about Emory alumni and scholars who are turning algae into oil, vacant houses into homes, small loans into safe water, hobbies into lifestyle changes, and good intentions into conservation careers.
You’ve probably never heard of Solazyme, a renewable oil company started by two Emory classmates less than a decade ago, but the odds look good that you will encounter at least one of their algae-based products in the next few years. (Hint: it could be biofuel, or it could be ice cream. Maybe both.)
You may not be familiar with the notion of land banking, either, but you probably are all too aware of the national housing crisis and the attendant wave of foreclosures leaving abandoned and vacant properties strewn in its wake. One of the nation’s leading experts in land banking at Emory is helping alumni leaders in Georgia and officials in cities around the country put the practice to new and unexpected use, taking control of empty houses and land for future revitalization.
In many people’s imaginations, water is blue, not green—but in fact, for most of the world, it’s brown. That’s because it’s dirty, untreated, and often dangerous. An alumna working with the organization Water.org is helping women in developing countries create—and finance—their own solutions to the problems that affect them most, while Emory’s Center for Global Safe Water addresses the challenges that no one wants to talk about: not just the widespread lack of access to safe water, but what happens to human waste when it has no safe place to go.
And on a brighter note, we’d like to thank the many alumni readers who responded to our invitation to tell us about “living green.” We received an astonishing array of stories spanning both professional and pleasure pursuits, stitched together by a common thread of remarkable consciousness and commitment—a thread also woven through Emory’s ambitious Climate Action Plan, unveiled earlier this year.
I am personally impressed and inspired by the stories in our green issue, and I hope you are, too. But strangely, in the past few weeks as we’ve been editing and proofing and polishing, green has not been the color on my mind. Weighing much more heavily have been matters of black and white.
Today, Florida’s George Zimmerman made his first court appearance in Seminole County, where he is charged with shooting and killing seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26. From a purely racial standpoint, this case is the reverse of the 1989 murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail, for which Savannah native Troy Davis was executed last September. MacPhail was white, and Davis was black; in today’s biggest story, Martin, the victim, was black, while Zimmerman is white and Hispanic.
As the stories unfold, though, there are somber echoes of Davis’s—which was revisited in the last issue of Emory Magazine—in Martin’s; thousands of supporters have rallied in Florida and around the country calling for “justice for Trayvon” and high-profile figures have publicly pushed for more rigorous investigation. Like the crowds who protested Davis’s execution last fall, Martin’s defenders say he was targeted as a victim because he was black.
Earlier this week, closer to home, I sat in the penultimate meeting concluding the lengthy and contentious process of redistricting Atlanta Public Schools, the system in which my son is a ninth-grader. Residents from throughout the district—but particularly some of the poorer, and yes, largely African American, communities where schools were slated for closure—openly and angrily argued that race was a factor shaping leaders’ decisions and pushing poor students away from quality schools. (At the end of that meeting, three of the elementary schools in question were kept open.)
To me, the deep complexity of race relations in the South is simultaneously a vast, elusive, and evolving narrative I feel I’ll never really understand, and the same simple tale told over and over, with changing characters and details but recurring themes. Some of those themes surface on the opposite page in the letters to Emory Magazine (which continue on our website) about our most recent cover article, spotlighting attorney Jay Ewart and his role in the final years of the Davis case.
What race is not, it seems, is a problem that can be solved, like renovating an empty house or digging a well for a village that needs safe water. Rather, it’s a story to be shared—never completely or perfectly, as evidenced by our previous cover article—but again and again, in different voices and from varying viewpoints, each adding its small part to a greater understanding.
Here’s one: I grew up in an all-white community, and my son goes to a high school that is more than 50 percent non-white. For what it’s worth, I think that’s a very, very good thing. I look forward to his story.