"We have a right to stay in our communities. We have a right to choose where we want to live and not let these areas simply deteriorate over time, losing its identity, culture and history."

I grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward and have lived here for the past 20 years. It is an underserved community, with few economic opportunities for residents, mostly people of color and lower incomes. Yet we have several pollution sources: concrete batch plants, metal recycling facilities, Superfund sites and a railyard that was once home to a chemical plant.

As a community advocate, I have seen the harmful effects of poor air quality. My friends and neighbors have cardiovascular problems, respiratory issues such as asthma and even cancer.

President Barack Obama once said, “We are the change we seek.” We can only bring about that change if we are aware of the problem and that it exists. We have a right to stay in our communities. We have a right to choose where we want to live and not let these areas simply deteriorate over time, losing its identity, culture and history.

That is why I started the Coalition of Community Organizations, or COCO. I have worked to educate the community and raise awareness about air quality issues. COCO’s objective is to make sure that our communities, regardless of race, nationality and religious beliefs, see improved air quality because pollution and health issues do not discriminate.

One thing is for sure: in our struggle, we have to make it personal. We need to continue to educate the community and let them know how things like chemical releases and living within proximity of chemical plants affect them from both a health and an economic standpoint. We need to ask ourselves if we are willing to fight for our families and children. We have to let them see that picture and what it will look like years from now.

Change must come from within the community, and that begins by holding those individuals that we elect accountable. 
With action and change, my community can grow and prosper, and quality of life of its residents can improve.

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