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How to have a healthy community, environment in Dayton: Make them 'commonplace conversations'

An auditorium with a table of people looking at each other and chatting. Rows of people in chairs are facing the table.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
The third annual Imagining Community Symposium was held in the Dayton Arcade hub on April 11 and 12

People should re-frame why some communities are negatively impacted more than others

That's according to Monica Unseld, a social justice advocate based out of Louisville, Kentucky.

“There's nothing wrong with your race. There's nothing wrong with your economic class that makes you more vulnerable to getting sick," she said. "It's how people react to your race, how they react to your economic class, it’s these systems.”

She joined other speakers to discuss emerging issues afflicting the Dayton community — health and environmental justice.

That was the theme of the third annual Imagining Community symposium, held in the Dayton Arcade hub April 11-12.

It’s put on by the University of Dayton, as well as other local universities and partners. The goal of the event is to highlight local experts and advocates working to make a positive change in Dayton.

This year’s theme, health and environmental justice, were topics of high local interest based on feedback at last year's symposium.

“We know these are complex challenges that we are facing in the Dayton region, and no one organization can solve this,” said Leslie Picca, UD professor of sociology and a symposium organizer. “And so it really does involve all voices coming together in an egalitarian space.”

The two-day symposium featured nearly 50 different sessions, spanning from lectures and workshops, to a film screening and panels.

Some topics of discussion included tree equity, impacts of redlining, food accessibility and more.

“These issues need to become commonplace conversations. You are an advocate. You're an advocate. You're an advocate,” said speaker Gayle Covington Fowler, pointing at people in the audience. “As of today, you need to become more vocal about some of these issues and this information, so that you can protect your children and your family and particularly the community."

In order to do justice work, you have to recognize everybody as being fully human, Unseld said, and that's the only way to identify injustices when they happen.

The disproportionately impacted are the heroes; I'm the support. I tell my team, start as a servant and hopefully they will promote you to partner,” she said.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905