Perseverance and Gratitude: Living Room Leadership with Olinka Green

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Olinka Green is a fighter who wakes up every day and chooses not to be defeated. A natural born activist raised in Dallas, Texas, Green got her first organizing experience in the third grade making signs to encourage her classmates’ families to boycott canned tuna. In her high school, Green joined a group of volunteers canvassing door to door in the West Dallas Housing Projects talking to residents about getting lead tested. One of the largest developments in the state of Texas, the projects were next to factory smoke stacks with known lead exposure, and families were being poisoned. Green hadn’t known how detrimental lead poisoning could be until she saw children born with limb disfigurement and parents dying of cancer, and she didn’t know that this experience would prepare her to spend her life fighting for communities under environmental and economic stress.
“I wasn’t scared of knocking on doors. I was scared of the effects that I saw.”
After taking time away from school to raise her two sons, Green was incarcerated for several months. She spent this time finishing her high school degree, and when she was reunited with her children the family moved into a housing development in North Dallas where she met mentors that helped her continue her education through college. One of these mentors, Reverend Carter, took her under his wing and taught her the tenets of social activism from his experience throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
Green overcame the difficult circumstances in her young adult life and turned her strength towards fighting for racial and environmental justice, which she has continued to do for the past 33 years. From being a Block Captain to organizing protests, she believes that she must be revolutionary about her standards for the way of life in her community and that she must be revolutionary in fighting for them.
In contrast to the West Dallas Housing Project she canvassed around in high school, Green grew up in a community with parks instead of smokestacks, so she was shocked when she found out about the toxic contamination at the Lane Plating Works site near her house. She started uncovering the history of the site and helped organize a community health survey that connected her neighbors’ health problems to the now Superfund site, but in a low-income Black community, she feels the company and the government are being apathetic towards their needs. She is seeing suffering caused by contamination now in her own community, and is fighting to reinstate the Polluters Pay Tax to hold companies accountable for cleaning up the messes that burden citizens like her neighbors.
“They’re killing whole communities. And what do they do with the money they make off what they do? They create empires, buy stocks, and send their children to college. And our kids are born without arms.”
Green acknowledged that in the daily fight to protect her family and her community from racial and climate injustice, it is easy to feel like the work she does is not enough. She is vocal about mental health struggles as a woman of color and an activist – another way in which she supports the people around her. She expressed abundant gratitude for her teachers, and we thank her for teaching us and inspiring us through her story, her openness, and her perseverance.
Her message to corporations poisoning communities like hers: “You’re going to have to deal with me. I know who you are and I know who buys stock in your corporation, you gotta see me.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Hoffman/File 2013 Photo/Dallas News

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