Just a couple of days after graduating from a Clark Atlanta University program, Freddie Redmond found himself in Mississippi helping clean up one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Redmond and other graduates from the university's Environmental Justice Resource Center staged beach areas to prepare for when the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico collides with the coast. They set up boats and booms to assist with efforts.
Clark Atlanta's center has partnered with other groups to offer the Minority Worker Training Program, which was established in 1995 to increase the number of minorities working in the construction and environmental industries. The training includes a 40-hour hazardous waste worker certification that is standard for oil spill cleanup.
The graduates are working for companies cleaning beaches in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Redmond returned to Atlanta about a week ago and plans to head back out to do more work.
Estimates are that more than 7 million gallons of oil have spewed out since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20.
"It was like we were saving the world," said Redmond, a homeless Gulf War veteran who was working for a temp service when he enrolled in the program. "It is an amazing thing to be a part of. It was a feeling of doing something right. I had the opportunity to be involved in saving a community."
Clark Atlanta offers the free program in partnership with Dillard University in Louisiana, with funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The training targets adults living in economically disadvantaged communities, such as the Vine City, West End and English Avenue neighborhoods in Atlanta.
Program managers work with community organizers to recruit students for the free training. The program meets four times a year, with about 20 students in each class. Depending on the training and skill levels of the participants, each session lasts between four and 12 weeks, said Lisa Sutton, a training director.
Students must be at least 18 and have a high school diploma or equivalent, Sutton said. They also must be drug-free and able to read on at least an eighth-grade level, she said.
The program provides hands-on training in construction, hazardous materials, asbestos abatement and mold remediation. Students also receive basic training in math, literacy, life skills and job readiness. Teachers also explain how urban environmental issues affect students' communities.
About 80 percent of the graduates find jobs, Sutton said.
The training program is offered in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida. About 75 graduates -- including six from Atlanta -- are working on various aspects of the cleanup.
Atlanta resident Kevin Knox just returned from Mississippi and is hoping to return.
While there, he removed tar balls, which ranged from golf ball sized to basketball sized. All the skills he learned at Clark Atlanta were used, he said.
"What we saw was just so devastating," Knox said. "The work is hard, but you know you're doing something important. It's moving to be a part of something like this. "
Working in the Gulf
Other Georgia colleges have professors, researchers and students working on various aspects of the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Kennesaw State University biology professor Troy Mutchler will return to the Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola on Saturday to study how pollution affects sea grass communities. He described sea grass as a "nursery" for Gulf marine life, including shrimp, scallops and crabs. His project was planned before the disaster, but he said the research will provide baseline data to help assess the oil spill damage.
- University of Georgia professor Samantha Joye and a team of researchers from UGA and other universities are researching underwater oil plumes in the Gulf. She has reported that huge plumes of oil remain deep beneath the surface. Joye, a professor in the department of marine sciences, is blogging about her work and answering questions here: gulfblog.uga.edu.
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