It's Women's History Month! Creative Loafing loves to celebrate wonderful women all year round, but this month we're spending a little extra time highlighting a few Charlotte fe-noms whose work uplifts other women and girls. We did hear a rumor they run the world ...
Every April, Monica Embrey makes a pilgrimage. Alongside thousands of other Japanese-Americans, she travels hundreds of miles to visit a small stone monument in Manzanar, a small northern California town that sleeps in the shadow of Mount Whitney. The Japanese phrase "I rei to" (soul-consoling tower) is carved into the stone.
Embrey's grandmother Sue Kunitoni Embrey was interned at Manzanar for more than two years during World War II. After her release, she dedicated her life to community organizing, education and reparative justice for the Japanese-American community. The Manzanar monument is now a national historic site because of her efforts. "Her drive and passion for justice - and knowing in her heart what was right despite facing immense opposition - inspires me every day," Embrey says.
In 2006, Sue passed away of chronic pulmonary illness - a byproduct of a life spent in the environmental pollution of Los Angeles and her time at Manzanar. In response, Embrey devoted herself to uprooting environmental injustice and its inequitable impacts on women, minorities and members of poor communities.
"I dedicated my life to looking at how all of these issues are deeply connected - in both root problems and challenges and potential solutions," she says.
Today, Embrey's work as an organizer for Greenpeace takes her into the trenches to build awareness amongst women and girls about the very real havoc pollution wreaks in their lives.
"The environmental crisis and injustice that plays out in Charlotte is often playing out, very literally, in women's and girls' bodies," Embrey says. "In Charlotte, one in six women has enough mercury concentrated in her body to pass along to a child in the form of a learning disability and birth defect."
While the loss of her grandmother motivates Embrey to press on personally, her work within Charlotte communities jointly fuels her focus and feminism. "As with many movements, women are at the forefront," Embrey shares. "This is true historically and in Charlotte as well."
It's women in Charlotte, she continues, who are driving the victories and achieving environmental justice in our communities. Right now, in the wake of the Dan River coal ash spill, "women are at the center of the effort to hold Duke Energy, Gov. McCrory and DENR [the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources] accountable for the coal ash crisis in North Carolina," she says. "[Women] from many incredible organizations ... [are doing] everything from water testing at spill sites to speaking at press conferences to organizing rallies and town hall meetings to help get the word out to the community."
As Embrey presses on in what's sure to be a lifelong, hard fight, it's relationships - particularly these strong and supportive women she works with every day - that help her keep focus and her head held high.
"Women of all ages, of all racial backgrounds, of all socioeconomic classes are engaging at the heart of this environmental justice fight," she adds, pushing a photo of fellow organizers across the table and pointing fondly to each one. "It's an incredible learning opportunity to be surrounded by such powerful women. They're determining the future of the planet and the type of the world that we're going to live in."
NC Greenpeace, Embrey's representative organization, is co-sponsoring a Moral Monday Town Hall: The Dan River Spill and the Effects of Coal Ash in NC. The NAACP is hosting the event. You can find out more about NC Greenpeace and Monica's work on their Facebook page.