Honoring Joanie Gillette: Environmental Justice

By Susannah Gillette
Joanie’s Daughter

These remarks were delivered at a ceremony honoring Joan Gillette which took place at Common Ground on May 8, 2017.

I’m awestruck and a bit emotional standing here and witnessing what this school has become. I’m so proud that my mom’s vision and purpose in life continues to bear  fruit year after year.

My Mom was a champion of environmental justice and ahead of her time. She taught me – and her students – about structural inequalities and how racism, colonization, industrialization together have inflicted economic and environmental harm on communities of color.

Since the 80s my mom taught me this.

Yes, the entire globe faces environmental issues – pollution, global warming, poisonous pesticides, and dangerous GMOs that threaten our health. However, the impact of these environmental issues and lack of access to nutritious foods disproportionately harm the inner cities and communities of color.

This is precisely why my mom believed it was so important to connect new haven kids to food at its source and to develop generations of local ecology experts. Ecology explains how all living this are interdependent and interconnected. She envisioned a future in which New Haven families across all neighborhoods breathe clean air, grow their own vegetables, are able to promote sustainable practices and question the source and processing  of their food. This leads to healthier families, fewer health problems and potentially better school success. To my mom – access to healthy food and clean air is a human right.

In founding Common Ground, she incorporated this philosophy into her educational philosophy which was that students learn better when the disciplines  (math, science, English, history) are taught in context.

We are asking all of you to join us in establishing a scholarship to be awarded each year to a senior who is also a champion of environmental justice like my mom and who works to uplift the New Haven community. We chose this way to honor her because – for her – it was always about the students. She was a teacher for her entire career because she knew the power of being able to shape and inspire young minds. It challenged her intellect and it fed her soul. Our family wants the Common Ground students and by extension all New Haven youth to know that we honor and celebrate them and we believe in their ability to uplift our city and the world.


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