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Charlotte mom balances family with environmental activism
Kelle Presley-Perkins raises mercury awareness
 
Published Friday, February 15, 2019 7:09 am
by Herbert L. White | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | TROY HULL
Kelle Presley-Perkins balances family and professional obligations with her passion as an environmental activist.

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Kelle Presley-Perkins wears many hats.


Horticulturist.


Doula.


Home-schooling mom.


Environmentalist.


Presley-Perkins, who lives in West Charlotte, is flexing her muscle as an environmental activist as a member of Moms Clean Air Force, which lobbies for tougher mercury pollution standards. She recently took four of her children to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for tighten federal air quality standards. Her goal is to raise awareness – especially African Americans – to ties between humans, climate and environmental justice.


“Going to Washington and sitting with my elected politicians – not in the streets, not at barbecues, not at street cookouts, but going to their offices” is key, she said. “When I see my neighborhood doesn’t look like somebody else’s neighborhood, I want to know why.”


Presley-Perkins’ activism is connected to geography and profession. After Hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas last year, she decided to become more engaged about pushing for climate solutions. As a doula, or birthing coach, she’s aware of the benefits of a healthy pregnancy. Mothers who are exposed to environmental stresses are at greater risk to premature births and delivering children with physical or developmental issues. The risks are greater in black communities where environmental racism, such as the effects of toxins in the air, land and water are more likely.  


“In my circle, with my moms and my homeschool tribe, I can’t stress that enough,” Presley said. “It’s so hard to convince them why they should be at the table and why they should be a part [of the conversation]. They look around in their neighborhoods, and you’ll see very clearly if we’re not at the table, we’re on the menu.”


Mercury pollution in North Carolina has declined by 70 percent since 2011 when federal standards were strengthened, but the Trump administration has rolled back many of those regulations through the Environmental Protection Agency. Without the standards, the state could potentially lose as much as $3.9 billion in health benefits saved. As a country, 11,000 deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks are prevented due to current standards. Relaxing regulations would make it easier for utilities – primarily through coal-fired plants – to release mercury and other toxins into the atmosphere.


“We won’t address anything, we won’t acknowledge anything until something traumatic happens,” Presley-Perkins said. “We can be very regressive and reactive at times, but when we have a dialogue and we explain what’s going on and little triggers and possible outcomes, I think that gradually changes people’s mindset.”  


Environmental activism has been a rewarding experience, Presley-Perkins said. Not only has it raised her personal awareness, it’s spread to family and neighbors.

“Our communities suffer because of ignorance,” she said. “No one gets upset until it’s in their backyard and to be progressive seems to be a challenge for us.”

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