By Sydney Gold
Families for Lead Freedom Now hosted the “People’s Public Hearing on Lead Poisoning: Environmental Justice for Syracuse Now!” Saturday, June 12, with hope of calling attention to Syracuse’s continued lead crisis. The event featured speakers from across the community, moderated by co-chairs Oceanna Fair, the South Branch Leader of Families for Lead Freedom Now, and Gabriel Mkandama, the North Branch Leader.
“We are here because we are fighting for the souls of Syracuse families,” Fair said. “The question is: How long can the souls of families take the battering and beating of their children before collapsing?”
The event highlighted four specific demands Families for Lead Freedom Now are demanding from the city:
1. TESTING NOW. A return to mass-based population testing of Syracuse residents under the age of 6 or elevated blood lead levels (EBLL).
2. OPERATE THE ORDINANCE. Begin full operation and implementation of the Syracuse Lead Ordinance, which was scheduled to be implemented by Oct. 1, 2020, but has yet to be effectively enforced.
3. RENTAL REGISTRY IN PLAIN VIEW. Give the public full and complete public transparency of which properties are on the Syracuse Rental Registry.
4. SHARE THE DATA ON RACE AND PLACE. Twice a year, Onondaga County Department of Health should release de-identified (non-personalized) data of race and ethnicity and place (census tract and/or zip code) of children suffering lead poisoning.
These four demands, say event organizers, would ideally move the city in the direction of a more proactive approach to battling the lead crisis. While Syracuse’s Common Council passed the Lead Abatement and Control Ordinance last summer, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed much of its implementation. Even as the city begins to reopen and vaccination rates increase, organizers stressed families are still struggling to access the resources needed to battle the crisis — and many landlords have yet to be held accountable for violations on their properties.
“I want you to imagine living in a community where a child can actually grow healthy and free. A place where there is good, clean, quality housing for everyone … Where children can become the next generation of local firefighters, police officers, lawyers, judges and doctors. But, in all honesty, that is not my reality,” said Darlene Medley, the Families for Lead Freedom Now West Side Branch Leader and mother of two lead poisoned children.
The event featured four panels and a variety of speakers from academics, activists, and impacted families. While these stakeholders came from different backgrounds, there message was clear and consistent: lead poisoning in Syracuse is an epidemic, not only of health injustice, but of racial violence and housing discrimination, and without change, Syracuse’s Black and Brown and refugee children will continue to be robbed of their potential and futures.
“Children’s brains are not disposable,” said Dr. Sandra Lane, a professor of public health at Syracuse University who has studied lead poisoning’s impact on children.
Participating organizations include: The Congolese Women of Vision, Integrity and Action; The Congolese Community of Syracuse; CNY Solidarity; Northside Learning Center; Syracuse Peace Council; Workers Center of CNY; Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network; Syracuse Democratic Socialists of America; Syracuse Party for Socialism and Liberation; PEACE Inc.; Legal Services of CNY; Southside Homeowners Association; Syracuse Tenants Union, and Health Education Project of 1199 SEIU.
Sydney Gold is a reporter for The Stand and a Newspaper & Online Journalism
and Political Science junior at Syracuse University