Black Meetings and Tourism

September / October 2015

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I N T H E N E W S B M & T ••• September/October 2015 ••• 8 AARON MAIR ELECTED SIERRA CLUB PRESIDENT The Sierra Club has elected Aaron Mair of Schenectady, New York, as its new president. An epi- demiological-spatial ana- lyst with the New York State Department of Health, Mair brings more than three decades of envi- ronmental activism and over 25 years as a Sierra Club volunteer leader to his position as the Sierra Club's first African- American president. Mair became a Sierra Club member in 1999, following a decade-long battle that he led to shut down a polluting solid waste incinerator in an inner-city community in Albany, New York. His efforts ultimately led to a commitment by the state to shut down the facility and a $1.6 million settlement award to that community. Mair was also a key figure in leading the fight and securing the Sierra Club's participation in the Clean Up the Hudson campaign, which resulted in a settlement between the EPA and General Electric to dredge toxic PCB sediments from the Upper Hudson River. Mair has held more than three dozen leadership positions within the Sierra Club's Hudson Mohawk Group and Atlantic Chapter, including chapter chair (2002-2003), chapter execu- tive committee (2002-2004) and environmental justice chair (2009-present). He was elected to the national Sierra Club's Board of Directors in 2014. Throughout his tenure with the Club, Mair has demon- strated an unwavering commitment to grassroots action, envi- ronmental justice, and transforming the culture of the Sierra Club to make it — in his words — "a more welcoming envi- ronment to all people, regardless of their race or socio-eco- nomic status." The Planet sat down with Mair after his election as the Sierra Club's 57th president. Planet: What first drew you to the environmental move- ment and environmental activism? Mair: In 1984, when I was a young professional, my wife and I had the choice of moving to the Albany suburbs or the inner city. We chose the latter – a high-needs community called Arbor Hill, which at the time was 80 percent Black. We built a house near a school and the Tivoli Park nature reserve. Shortly after moving in, we noticed that soot was gathering on our car, and we learned that the source was a toxics incin- erator due south of our home. Our house was built in the pre- vailing wind pattern of the incinerator. Two of our daughters had serious upper respiratory issues, which prompted us to do research and find out the cause and then mobilize the com- munity. Arbor Hill had no experience in grassroots organizing; it was just families and parents in the community who cared for their children, who were going to Tivoli Park and breath- ing this toxic, soot-laden air. So I helped them start the Arbor Hill Neighborhood Association. And for the next 10 years I organized several large civil disobedience protests that charged the then-governor of New York with environ- BY TOM VALTIN Aron Mair

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