Black History 365: Katharine Morris

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Katharine Morris is using her environmental activism to raise awareness about public health and the local ecosystem in her neighborhood

Article by In The Know, Video produced by Alex Hughes, Jordan Walker, Alexandra Katsoulis

Sometimes, changing the world starts at home! For activist and student Katharine Morris, that means raising awareness about climate change and environmental racism in her Connecticut community. 

Katharine is the founder of UConn Collaborative Organizing (UCCO) and works with students and activists in her community to raise awareness about the ways in which social justice issues and climate activism are inextricably intertwined. Katharine’s goal is to address climate issues in her home of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and to connect and collaborate with climate activists across the state.

Katharine first became aware of the connection between racism and climate change when she moved to Bridgeport as a teenager. “When I moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut for my high school years, that’s when I noticed all the plumes and various air pollution sources,” she tells In The Know. “My air was more polluted and my water was more polluted. I didn’t have access to nature in the way that I was most familiar with.”

Katharine began volunteering for organizations in her community as a high school student, and founded UCCO upon enrolling at the University of Connecticut. “It’s about shifting the culture on campus to one where people recognize what they can do together, and feel that sense of responsibility towards each other, and feel the strength of collective action in a way that hopefully will last long after I’ve graduated,” she explains. 

Katharine works hard to make her community aware of local environmental issues and how they’re connected to racial inequality. She tells In The Know that sources of pollution like power plants and incinerators disproportionately affect people of color and low income communities. 

According to Katharine, incinerators fill the air with harmful particulate matter which can cause higher rates of cancer and asthma. She notes that asthma rates are 5 times higher for Black children in Connecticut. “Social injustices, structural injustices, environmental racism, health inequities—this connection should be accounted for in the fight for environmental justice and climate action overall.”

In her work with UCCO, Katharine focuses on community engagement and awareness-raising tactics. “I am engaging with other [environmental justice] activists who are doing great work around the state of Connecticut,” she says. “I’m also working on community engagement projects to really ground the community members of Bridgeport with a sense of pride and responsibility for their environment.”

Katharine also works on fundraising projects for UCCO. She is currently raising money via a GoFundMe for “Seaside Sounds for Environmental Justice,” a cultural celebration and fundraising event which will showcase local artists and entrepreneurs, and raise awareness about local environmental issues. 

Katharine believes that tackling environmental racism takes persistence, creativity, and teamwork. “It really starts with being creative, but also most importantly paying attention to the needs of the environmental justice communities in your surroundings, because there’s no one size fits all solution for these issues,” she says. “We’re all people surrounded by other people, interacting with other people, and if we don’t work together collaboratively, we’re not going to solve the gigantic problem that is climate change and environmental racism.”