by Melissa Ardery, Published March 25, 2013
YPSILANTI- Dubbed "Detroit's next green leader," Eastern Michigan University senior, Dorthea Thomas, was selected to attend an international seminar Feb. 14-24 in Tokyo focusing on climate justice. The event was sponsored by the organization, United Methodist Women.
The United Methodist Women is an organization with more than 800,000 women that aims to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice. Their programs and projects are related to women, children and youth in the United States and in more than 100 countries around the world.
Thomas, a Detroit native, was one of only a few chosen from the United States and the only applicant from the Midwest to attend the seminar. She joined women from Korea, Japan and the United States, ranging in ages 18 to 30, to understand how climate change is affecting peoples' lives and international efforts to address it.
"When I found out that I had received the opportunity to travel to Japan and talk about environmentalism and climate justice with other young phenomenal women from all over, I felt humbled and honored," said Thomas.
Thomas, along with other participants, met with international nongovernmental organizations, grass-roots organizers and community activists.
Thomas visited the Asian Rural Institute (ARI), a non-traditional training institute and fully sustainable organic farm that aims to facilitate self-development of rural people in order to build a just and peaceful world. The farm was affected by the tsunami and earthquake in 2011 where radiation destroyed their entire crop and housing.
"The knowledge that I acquired in Japan redeveloped and transformed my entire frame of thinking," said Thomas. "I learned the term "foodlifework," while we worked on the farm, which means, without food there is no work, and without work there is no life."
Thomas describes that when radiation levels were very high after the Tsunami due to the explosion of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Japanese government did not inform the local farmers or residents of the contamination until days after they had already been affected.
"People in their communities organized and put their minds and resources together to make a difference," said Thomas. "They started demanding change and standing up for their rights."
In Detroit, "we have coal-fired plants and incinerators polluting our air, land, and water every day, which affects the way we think, act or learn," said Thomas. "We need to organize and demand change, like the residents in Japan, and more effectively combat these disparities."
Thomas works with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) as an environmental and climate justice youth ambassador. This role has allowed her to actively address issues that have been established in in Detroit's communities.
She has also developed her own campaign entitled, Hope for Green Detroit, focusing on making Detroit a more sustainable society, as well as developing principles on waste reduction, energy efficiency, and conservation, while educating the community about effects of climate change and environmental injustice.
"Just like those affected by the tsunami that had to start from the ground up, we need to start from the ground up and rebuild Detroit," said Thomas. "We know the problems; it's time to find the solutions."
Thomas has held executive offices at EMU such as director of diversity in student government, 1st vice president of black student union, and served on numerous committees.
She will earn a bachelor's degree in women and gender studies and sociology at Eastern in April 2013, and will go on to earn a master's degree in social justice with a concentration in theology at Marygrove College in Detroit in the fall.