Our progress roundup highlights American endeavors to address past injustices, by harnessing the power of both local voices and highly visible institutions.
1. United States
Efforts to preserve African American burial sites are gaining momentum across the country. Missing deeds, weak preservation laws, and general lack of awareness have made lost African American cemeteries uniquely vulnerable. More and more, communities are leading efforts to memorialize developed burial grounds, as well as identify and preserve these sites before they are slated for development.
Why We Wrote This
Increasingly, societies are trying to address wrongs by stopping bad practices and giving back what was taken. In the U.S., more communities are memorializing Black burial sites. And two museum collections have returned artifacts to Iraq.
Virginia’s Prince William County recently voted to fund archaeological surveys to improve cemetery mapping. Officials are also considering additional oversight for development projects in the community of Thoroughfare, where a new activist group has formed in response to the erasure of historic Black and Native American gravesites.
In Florida, where legislators estimate there may be as many as 3,000 developed or abandoned burial grounds, the governor signed off on a six-month task force dedicated to studying this issue. Nationally, historical preservation advocates have been pushing congressional bills that would establish a database of African American cemeteries throughout the United States, and to support educational programs. “People are absolutely starting to realize that these kinds of historical injustices need to be addressed now,” said Kelley Fanto Deetz, co-CEO of the History, Arts, and Science Action Network. “So there is a change coming.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation, Black Cemetery Network
“Green corridors” offer residents of Medellín, Colombia, refuge from rising temperatures. Since 2017, the city has installed tens of thousands of native trees, palms, and other plants to create 30 interconnected corridors through many of Medellín’s “heat islands.” These urban areas have high concentrations of heat-absorbing paved roads and concrete, making the neighborhoods hotter in the day and slower to cool down at night. With more than 12 shaded miles, the green corridors offer residents routes to travel, work, and rest, and have decreased the heat island effect by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, according to city officials. The added vegetation also helps combat air pollution and absorb carbon emissions.
Despite initial concerns over the cost of creating and maintaining the corridors, city gardeners say community members have come to appreciate the green spaces. Their work has also received international praise. The initiative won a 2019 Cooling by Nature Award from Ashden, a United Kingdom-based charity supporting climate change solutions around the world, and the head of the United Nations Environment Program in Colombia, Juan Bello, said, “The Green Corridor project is an excellent example of how city planners and governments can use nature for smart urban design.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation, U.N. Environment Program
The Iraqi Ministry of Culture reclaimed 17,000 looted artifacts in the country’s largest repatriation. Decades of unrest, especially during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, have allowed for extensive looting of Iraqi antiquities, which often appear on the black market with vague or falsified letters of provenance. The recent return results from years of effort and includes thousands of cuneiform tablets, ancient seals, and other items. Around 12,000 artifacts come from the Museum of the Bible, founded and chaired by Hobby Lobby President Steve Green. The company launched an internal review of museum collections after the U.S. Department of Justice levied $3 million in fines in 2017 for dubious acquisitions. Another 5,000 were donations to Cornell University’s collection.
“This is not just about thousands of tablets coming back to Iraq again – it is about the Iraqi people,” said Hassan Nadhem, the minister of culture, tourism, and antiquities, about the historic shipment. “It restores not just the tablets, but the confidence of the Iraqi people by enhancing and supporting the Iraqi identity in these difficult times.”
The New York Times, Al Jazeera
Malawian teens are tackling sensitive subjects on air. A survey showed that 54% of young people in Africa rely on radio as their primary news source, and according to the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, 81% find local programming more trustworthy than international programs. The U.S.-based nonprofit Developing Radio Partners is helping local radio stations build on that trust by mentoring young people to be role models for their community, and address critical social issues. So far, DRP has worked with nine stations to train about 400 youth reporters in Malawi. The teens go on to host and research radio shows covering cultural taboos, such as gender violence and HIV.
One program, called “Let’s Shine,” is estimated to have reached 3 million youths since hitting airwaves in 2017. One listener, Doreen Sakala, is a young mother who says the show’s candid conversations about teen pregnancy inspired her to return to school. Organizers say child marriage – which is illegal but remains common in Malawi – has declined in areas where radio stations have partnered with DRP. Near the Zambian border, Nzenje village chief Lawrence Lungu says the youth-led radio shows have helped dissolve at least six child marriages by “[bringing] light to us when we were in the dark.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation