By Janice K. Neal-Vincent
The Planet Forward Summit on Sustainable Cities was held April 21-22 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
The summit engaged a new dialogue on future cities featuring mayors, public and private sector leaders, journalists, academics, students, innovators and entrepreneurs.
Participants embarked upon solutions to the biggest challenges facing the planet. Web, video, social media, television and events to empower new voices and lead a global conversation on the planet’s future were used.
College students from across the world submitted their ideas on urban sustainability innovations. Submissions included blog posts, infographics, images and videos that were featured on the Planet Forward website and social media platforms.
The Storyfest competition boasted 12 finalists who were selected by the Planet Forward editorial team and appeared before a panel of four expert judges: Christian Amolsch from Gensler, David Enders from VICE Media, Sommer Mathis from CityLab and Betty Hudson from Hudson & Associates.
Backed by their crew, honorable mention winners were Tougaloo College student Andre Carter and Jackson State University student R’Myni Watson who wrote, directed and produced Saving Our Farms, Saving Our Families, a digital project about the obesity and chronic disease disparities in Mississippi.
Saving Our Farms, Saving Our Families reports that Mississippi has a rich history of local farming. The state’s agriculture is a $7.9 billion industry which is the largest industry in Mississippi. The industry employs roughly 250,000 people. The national obesity rate is 29 percent. The average obesity rate in Mississippi is 35 percent.
The digital project zoomed in on two local innovators who are promoting change in the area of urban farming and public health.
Dr. Cindy Ayers Elliott of Footprint Farms recognizes that farmers are being pushed to sell their land and move into the city. Fast food chains in the city contribute to obesity. In her thrust to crush obesity, Elliott runs a local farm in Jackson. She has built a product around food and hopes to add business savvy. The businesswoman looks at the whole dynamics of building a business.
Dr. Timothy Quinn asserted that many people go on diets, but they only work a couple of weeks, so he recommends lifestyle changes by eating healthy. “Children eat what their parents cook. Healthy eating habits and exercise programs are essential,” he said.
Co-director Shameka Nicole Cathey, assistant professor of political science at Tougaloo and deputy commissioner of County Water and Soil, enthusiastically asserted, “This project highlights the disparities we have in Mississippi and addresses how urban farming is an innovative tool or avenue in conjunction with physicians who are forward thinking. The digital media platform really brought the obesity story to life for the students. We now have a generation of new voices who know how to tell a story that engages the audience.”
Watson’s first film was done during fall semester 2015. Her second film was accepted at Harvard University and she ranked 15 in the world,” said co-director Wilma Mosley Clopton, filmmaker, NMHS Unlimited Film Productions and adjunct professor at W. E. B. DuBois Honors College, Jackson State University. According to Clopton, “This active medium for students to become engaged encourages them to see that they can do something and express it through the medium in which they are familiar. We’ve been able to help them understand they have a platform. It’s greater than the film they created.”
Clopton and Cathey met through the service learning project that Cathey instituted last fall. “I try to incorporate the school, the student and the community. All benefit, and it’s enforced in each arena. We want to bring to the forefront the heavy decline of Mississippi black farmers to end diabetes, obesity and to inform the public about what the government is trying to do,” Cathey said.
The Saving Our Farms, Saving Our Families digital project’s crew was a team effort between students from Tougaloo and Jackson State.
Cathey’s students included Martinez Walker, Andre Carter, Jordan Hughes, Michel’le Wheatley and Nico Sedivy (Tougaloo/Brown Exchange student).
Clopton’s students were Martinez Walker, R’Myni Watson, Domonique Meeks, Harrison Watson and Vernell Mitchell.
The crew mentioned that they learned that diabetes is rampant in Mississippi. The Planet Forward Summit gave them a platform to educate a larger audience about diabetes and sustainability. “It helps eliminate biases against Mississippi and puts the state in a better light and gives us an opportunity to speak to Congress to better persuade them,” HarrisonWatson said.
“People who have diabetes often are not aware of what is happening to their bodies. It’s important to educate our youth and the black community to eradicate obesity,” R’Myni Watson admitted.
Carter added, “We want to bring to the forefront the heavy decline of Mississippi black farmers. We want to eliminate diabetes and obesity that are largely caused by fast food restaurants.”
In a recent email Kim Ossi van Brecht, senior managing editor of Storyfest Planet Forward, said of the collaborative effort, “We loved their piece. I know it took many hands to make a project of this magnitude, and it was wonderful to get to meet the team in person last week.”
The grand prizewinners were awarded $500 and an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to visit the U.N. Headquarters and share their innovation story with development experts from around the world.