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Two Earth Day festivals focus on urban minorities EARTH DAY 1995


While most Earth Day celebrations involve planting trees and reveling in nature, a pair of festivals in Baltimore this weekend focus on the environmental concerns of minorities living in urban neighborhoods.

Originally, only one minority-oriented Earth Day festival was planned. But a split among organizers of the event prompted creation of a second celebration, and the division of about $70,000 in federal grants awarded to finance the event.

The first festival, called a "Black Earth Day" by its creator, offers three days of activities, with the main events beginning at noon tomorrow at Sojourner-Douglass College at 501 N. Caroline St. Workshops on inner-city gardening, vegetarian foods and reggae and Hispanic music are planned.

The second celebration, named "Urban Earth Day," offers a daylong series of workshops, forums and speeches Sunday about lead poisoning, housing problems, industrial pollution and jobs. The festival will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway.

"So many environmental groups are centered around wildlife protection, river runs, park cleanups and so forth, but ours are centered around protection of humans and inner-city surroundings," said Deborah Alex-Saunders, executive director of the Minority Environmental Association, an Ohio group that organized the Sunday festival.

While the two events focus on minority environmental concerns, organizers insist they are not in competition.

"They're both developments on the same concept," said Morning Sunday, a Waverly community activist who created Black Earth Day.

Ms. Sunday, who was involved in a petition drive last year to impose term limits on elected officials, said it was originally her idea to have a black-oriented Earth Day celebration in Baltimore.

She said she contacted the Minority Environmental Association to arrange the event and sought out federal funding to help pay for it.

But, Ms. Sunday said: "There was a parting of ways." Neither she nor Ms. Alex-Saunders would explain the reasons for the split.

Both events are underwritten by a total of $70,000 in federal grants from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture, according to organizers.

Urban Earth Day's speeches and workshops will focus on the impact of pollution on the health and quality of life of inner-city residents. Air pollution, lead poisoning and sewage spills afflict urban neighborhoods more than suburban communities, Ms. Alex-Saunders said.

A varied group of entertainers, politicians, academics and activists are slated to speak on the festival's theme of "environmental justice."

Mike Espy, former U.S. secretary of agriculture who resigned last fall amid allegations he accepted gifts from a poultry firm, is listed as the keynote speaker for Urban Earth Day. He is scheduled to be introduced by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

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