top of page

Speak Life! Speakers to Focus on the Intersections of Racism, Health and Environment

From her post in Maryland, Dr. Jennifer D. Roberts is actively watching Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse as they work to remove highways that have long divided their cities and neighborhoods.


A Buffalo native focused on the intersection of health and the built environment, Dr. Roberts will speak next week in Rochester. She will share how highway infrastructure harmed communities by displacing and damaging the health of residents who live near those highways. She will also share how those communities can be restored with equitable urban redevelopment.


Dr. Roberts will be the keynote speaker at the 2024 Speak Life! Health Equity Conference, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, April 25, at Asbury First United Methodist Church and online. The coalitions Common Ground Health convenes, the African American Health Coalition, the Latino Health Coalition the Indigenous Health Coalition and the New American Health Advisory Group, led the event planning.


The conference’s theme is “The Environmental Impact on Health: How Racism and Discrimination Shape Our Region’s Environment to Create Health Inequity.”


“From the redlining of our cities, to suburbanization, Urban Renewal and the Interstate Highway Project, Black residents didn’t stand a chance against the racism that destroyed their neighborhoods,” Dr. Roberts said. “The result was increased pollution, the loss of green space, and neighborhoods segregated through design. We have an opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past.”


Dr. Roberts founded and directs the Public Health Outcomes and Effects of the Built Environment (PHOEBE) Laboratory and is the co-founder of the NatureRX@UMD. She is also the founding executive director of the Wekesa Earth Center, which promotes equity, reconciliation and healing in nature through research, recognition, programs and dissemination.


“Nature benefits us by decreasing blood glucose, blood pressure, heart disease, stress, anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Roberts, who has a doctorate in public health and is associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health at the University of Maryland College Park. “Being outside in nature improves and supports your health by boosting mood, immune system, physical activity, sleep quality and memory and thought.”


In addition to Dr. Roberts, climate activist Vic Barrett will be the health equity speaker for the event. A fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, Barrett got involved in climate activism after Hurricane Sandy flooded his hometown of White Plains in 2012. In 2015, Barrett, 16, attended the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change. A year later, he addressed the General Assembly for the signing of the Paris Agreement and spoke at the United Nations headquarters for the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


Barrett is among 21 youth activists suing the U.S. government to take action on climate change in the case Juliana v. United States. The lawsuit states that the government violated youth rights by allowing activities that harmed the climate and calls for progressive changes to current carbon dioxide emissions. Originally filed in 2015, the court case has been ongoing.


“The federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse,” the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States asserted in a recent court filing.


After Barrett and Dr. Roberts speak, a panel of local speakers will share how area residents can take action to end environmental racism. Organizational and social change coach John Rodríguez will emcee the event.


Organizers will also present three awards to community health equity champions at the event. The winners of the Dr. Constantino Fernandez Community Leadership and Advocacy Award, the Edgar Santa Cruz Outstanding Coalition Member Award, and the Rev. Dr. Weldon Thomas Faith and Medicine Award will be announced at the event.


The presenting sponsor of the event is the University of Rochester Medical Center Institute for Human Health and the Environment and the Department of Public Health Sciences. The sponsor of the keynote speaker is Rochester Regional Health. The health equity speaker sponsor is Genentech. The vision sponsor is Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.


In-person tickets for the event are nearly sold out, but plenty of online tickets remain. Register at


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating

Top Stories

bottom of page