I SEE U

I SEE U, Episode 75: An Injustice To Remain Silent with Clean Energy Researcher Roishetta Ozane

Environmental justice advocate, Roishetta Ozane, reveals the social challenges in addressing the impacts of climate change, as devastating storms and a booming industrial buildout continue to engulf Southwest Louisiana—while leaving susceptible communities of color to fend for themselves.

Environmental justice advocate, The Vessel Project , Director and CEO Roishetta Ozane.

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Clean energy researcher Roishetta Ozane is a single mother of six children and lives in a Louisiana town that scientists have called, "the heart of America's climate crisis." With her Lake Charles-area home surrounded by refineries, natural gas facilities and petrochemical plants, her family has been inundated with ‘shelter-in-place' alerts and storm-related emergency alarms throughout their lives. Witnessing so much systemic hardship, Ozane created a mutual aid organization to help communities of color and low-income residents navigate government agencies to obtain relief after disasters strike. And she uses her platform to speak out publicly as an advocate for environmental justice at local forums, municipal hearings and regional climate conferences. But are state juries, industry leaders and agency officials willing to listen and take action? Stay tuned as I SEE U Host Eddie Robinson chats candidly with the founder of The Vessel Project of Louisiana, Roishetta Ozane. She speaks unguarded about her passion to build solidarity around an effort to combat climate change. A survivor of a 17-year abusive relationship, Ozane reminds us that while the industry sector continues to expand, worsening storms and violent hurricanes will repeatedly use this vulnerable Gulf Coast region as target practice.

 

Full Transcript

[00:00:00] Eddie Robinson: A single mother of six, Roishetta Ozane lives in a Louisiana town that scientists have called the heart of America’s climate crisis. Her family’s been displaced by so many storms and hurricanes and what makes matters worse, they are surrounded by refineries, natural gas facilities and chemical plants.

[00:00:21] Roishetta Ozane: So I jumped in my car barefoot and I drove towards the smoke. And it looked like that smoke was in the direction of Westlake where my children were at school.

[00:00:30] Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. Stay tuned as we chat with the founder of The Vessel Project, Roishetta Ozane. Her mutual aid group helps communities of color get back on their feet when disasters strike.

[00:00:42] Eddie Robinson: But what is her organization doing to combat environmental racism and what tools can she use for her own family and coping with what’s known as storm PTSD? Oh yeah. I feel you. We hear you. I SEE U.

[00:01:00] Eddie Robinson: This is I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re speaking with Roishetta Ozane. She holds a number of degrees with experience in community outreach and clean energy. She’s also a devoted mother who’s passionate about climate change. As experts say, the state of Louisiana will only get wetter, hotter, and more humid in the coming decades.

[00:01:24] Eddie Robinson: Roishetta lives near Lake Charles, Louisiana. That’s a place that’s experienced so much devastation from weather related hurricanes and federally declared disasters, all of this amid major industry expansion and the increasing severity of upcoming storms in this region. Ms. Ozane leads an organization called The Vessel Project of Louisiana, a mutual aid and disaster relief group that offers up emergency assistance and services to help steer financial resources to those BIPOC members of the community.

[00:02:01] Eddie Robinson: Ms. Ozane, first off, I’m a new dad and I’m about to pass out because of so much work that’s involved. But you’re the mother of six beautiful children.

[00:02:17] Roishetta Ozane: Yeah.

[00:02:17] Eddie Robinson: How on earth are you balancing local and regional matters pertaining to such a huge global crisis as climate change and still managing to take care of all your children who I gather aren’t quite old enough to take care of themselves just yet, correct?

[00:02:34] Roishetta Ozane: Oh, no, well some of them, um, according to society maybe because I have an 18 and 19 year old But but they’re all my babies. They all live here with me You know Eddie my children are the reason why I do this every day each of them Individually, there’s six of them. There’s six personalities six attitudes six different reasons for me to to do this.

[00:03:01] Roishetta Ozane: And so for each of them, I continue to do this fight. And that’s what gives me the strength and courage to continue to do it. So they’re, they’re my why, they’re my reason.

[00:03:11] Eddie Robinson: Yeah. They’re your why. And, you know, before we get into, um, the what, as it relates to your formal work and responsibilities, as it relates to the Vessel Project and learning more about that initiative, why?

[00:03:26] Eddie Robinson: I mean, let’s go deeper. You know, why did you think it necessary for you to be a part of understanding how say infrastructure works, the impact on the environment where you live? You know, why was all of this so important for you to be involved with at the very beginning, at the very onset? What was there in a moment that triggered an event that happened or an incident that happened that may have triggered something within you to do something about it?

[00:03:55] Roishetta Ozane: Well, I’ll just say, and in honor of Black History Month, I just want to say that it’s important for us to recognize, you know, the, the importance of environmental justice and the role that African Americans and other marginalized communities have played in fighting for environmental protection and equitable access to clean air, water, and land.

[00:04:16] Roishetta Ozane: And so as a, as an African American mom, um, You know, an African American woman from the South, from Ruleville, Mississippi, the Delta of Mississippi, smack dab in the middle of the Delta, right on the intersection of Highway 8 and Highway 49, at the intersection of the Mississippi Blues Trail and the Mississippi Civil Rights Trail, Right at the intersection of where Emmett Till was killed, where Fannie Lou Hamer was born, raised, and grew up.

[00:04:43] Roishetta Ozane: Where B. B. King sang the blues. It’s in me. It’s deep in me. It’s in my soul. This is what I bleed every day. And so, There was no other way around it. Everything great comes out of Mississippi, and everything bad comes out of Mississippi, as we know. That Mississippi River flows long, and it flows deep, and there is so many, so many injustices that go along with the flow of that Mississippi River.

[00:05:10] Roishetta Ozane: And so, when you think about, uh, BIPOC, Black, Indigenous, People of color community and I don’t like to say predominantly Black because we know we say predominantly it means all Black Communities and how they’re impacted and being a mom with these children growing up in this world Who is steadily fighting, you know as Black people we had to fight for our rights to be free. Then we had to fight for the right to be recognized as human beings, had to fight for the right to vote We had to fight for the right For clean air, clean water, health.

[00:05:43] Roishetta Ozane: We had to fight for so long and we’re still fighting. But in this month of February that’s supposed to be dedicated to that marginalized group of people, African Americans, we’re still fighting in 2023. And I felt like I am my ancestors wildest dreams. And so I felt like I was more radical and I was going to take things at a different approach and be the voice.

[00:06:05] Roishetta Ozane: I wasn’t going to just ask for a seat at the table, but I was going to actually use that seat at the table and use my voice while sitting at that table and bring other people to the table with me. And that’s what I’ve done. It’s not been one event. It’s been a series of events. We all have experienced several different traumas and tragedies in our lives.

[00:06:24] Roishetta Ozane: You know, I could talk about the fact that I was married to an abusive man for 17 years who was the father of my children. I could say that that led me here. I could say that the hurricanes that we’ve experienced and the losses that we’ve experienced at the hands of the hurricane has led me here or even the The fact that I live here in Lake Charles, Louisiana, that’s surrounded by industry.

[00:06:46] Roishetta Ozane: But at the end of the day, it’s an intersection of issues that are all connected. And at the center of those issues, the problem is race. And I just happened to be Black.

[00:07:00] Eddie Robinson: Ms. Ozane, there’s a line in the movie Soul Food with Vanessa Williams, Vivica Fox, Nia Long, where the actress who played Big Mama, uh, Irma Hall. Who’s from Beaumont, uh, if I’m not mistaken. She had a line in the movie.

[00:07:18] Irma Hall from the movie Soul Food: Now I’m gonna tell you something. One finger pointing the blame don’t make no impact. But you ball up all them fingers into a mighty fist and you can strike a mighty blow.

[00:07:30] Roishetta Ozane: Ooh, give me chills.

[00:07:31] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, right. I mean, that’s a great line. And she’s continues to say this family has got to be that fist. My question to you is, why is it that when it comes to environmental issues, issues related to energy issues related to water? Infrastructure, in some cases, the environment, how come Blacks seem to be reserved or a bit cautious when it comes to challenging or making known that something’s not right? I mean, do you think that they might view these tasks or issues too big to fail that they may be in a situation where someone or some company may retaliate by charging them or raising their rates within a given month?

[00:08:16] Eddie Robinson: You know, if a water note or gas bill is too high. Um, their house continues to smell odors inside and a nearby chemical plant is within blocks, but they don’t want to say anything because the rent may go up. You know, why is there somewhat of a hesitation or an unwillingness for people of color to say or do anything when it comes to factors of environmental racism? Environmental justice?

[00:08:41] Roishetta Ozane: Eddie. It’s two things. It’s fear and it’s lack of education. As far as fear is concerned, we know that there’s a history of people speaking out and being prosecuted for speaking out or using their voices. We can look at Dr. King, we can look at Fannie Lou Hamer, we can look at Rosa Parks.

[00:09:00] Roishetta Ozane: So many people throughout history who have been tormented or killed for speaking out for what was right. For simply stating what was right, what was decent human rights, what were their rights as a human being to have access to. They were murdered, killed, tormented, taunted for these things. And so that history is in us.

[00:09:26] Roishetta Ozane: It’s not far removed. We remember it. That’s the reason why they don’t want. Critical race Theory in schools because they want us to forget it. But there’s no way to forget what you breathe every day is in our souls. It’s in our bones. The ancestors whisper it to us every day. So there’s no way that we can forget that intense history of racism and biasness and prejudices.

[00:09:51] Roishetta Ozane: You know, Klans still walk the earth every day. They, uh, they, they don’t wear. They’re sheets anymore. They sit at a desk and they sit behind computers. They sit on Capitol Hill. They sit in government offices and city offices. And so, you know, they still make a lot of the rules that govern the land. And then you have things such as redlining and gerrymandering and zoning and all of these things that put us, that group us together.

[00:10:17] Roishetta Ozane: So we look at our neighbor. Okay, I can’t complain about my water because my neighbor water brown, too But my neighbor also looks just like me the one next door to me the one across the street. Okay, all of our water is brown. It must be a city issue No, everybody in this community water brown because y’all all look alike and that’s why the line is over here for your water to be brown But if you go across town where it’s whiter and wealthier their water isn’t brown And so it’s just getting us out of that educating us and that’s why I have these community meetings And during these community meetings, I try to offer education and if you look at my social media, you’ll see that I post things that are educational to community community members that are in layman’s terms the way that government has set up to educate us about the things that impact us is in a way that the normal person can’t understand.

[00:11:08] Roishetta Ozane: You know, we’re not lawyers and doctors and we don’t write all of these laws and don’t understand them. So I try to break things down to simple terms. So that you understand those things that are impacting you. But also the other issue is that the reason why there’s a lack of education is because we’re too busy putting out our own fires.

[00:11:27] Roishetta Ozane: If I can’t pay my rent, if I don’t know what I’m going to eat tonight, if I can’t pay my light bill, I don’t have time to focus on what’s going on around me, especially if it’s something perpetual, like. Something that has to be voted on or something that’s not even approved yet. I don’t care about that.

[00:11:45] Roishetta Ozane: That thing is not here. It’s not in front of me. It’s not affecting me right now because right now all I care about is paying my rent today. I care about feeding my children today. I care about paying my light bill today. And so until we can make the people in those communities whole and put out their individual fires, they will never be able to focus on what’s going on around them.

[00:12:06] Roishetta Ozane: And so again, it’s just, it’s a complex. issue. And at the end of the day, it’s all systemic things that have been set in place to keep marginalized people marginalized.

[00:12:19] Eddie Robinson: The Vessel Project of Louisiana.

[00:12:21] The Vessel Project of Louisiana: We are the Vessel Project. Vessel Project is a mutual aid grassroots organization that was founded in the Highway 14 Walmart parking lot.

[00:12:31] The Vessel Project of Louisiana: On Valentine’s day of 2021. Yes. Um, we were founded on the principles of solidarity and with an understanding that, you know, um, the government systems were not put in place to meet all of our basic needs, such as emergency shelter and things like that. Um, we know that there. Processes in place to be able to get that sort of assistance.

[00:12:57] The Vessel Project of Louisiana: So Dominique and I wanted to start an organization where we could, uh, meet people’s immediate needs without so much red tape that we could control where our funding was going.

[00:13:10] Eddie Robinson: Tell us more about this organization that you founded. And why it’s so important to you.

[00:13:16] Roishetta Ozane: So the vessel project of Louisiana is my small mutual aid organization that I founded for the very reason I was just stating, I cannot help a community that is in such great and dire need.

[00:13:29] Roishetta Ozane: I founded this organization in the aftermath of several natural disasters that had occurred in Southwest Louisiana.

[00:13:49] Roishetta Ozane: From Hurricane Laura, Hurricane Delta, Winter Storm Yuri, and the flooding that happened in May of 2021. So many people were hurting and struggling and trying to figure out their lives and what were they going to do next? Including myself as a single mom of six. And so I pulled together resources and community members, took up donations, put people in hotels and just, it started as a case management type of thing.

[00:14:20] Roishetta Ozane: And then that’s when I realized that, wait, everything is connected. Because when I would put somebody in a hotel and it was time for them to move in a permanent dwelling. Something would come up on their criminal history, and then I had to deal with the court system to see how can I get this expunged or taken off of their records so that they can move into this apartment complex.

[00:14:38] Roishetta Ozane: And then once they get in that apartment complex, it happened, helping them to get a job because the job that they had was no longer in existence because the storm had wiped that building out, and they were probably working at a fast food restaurant. You know, some local chain store or something that was, that was not coming back.

[00:14:55] Roishetta Ozane: And so it was one issue after the other and that vessel project came in as a way for people to get the assistance that they needed immediately, barrier free and red tape free as possible and to show that we don’t need to rely on the systems in place and the government systems that were meant to keep us back, but we could actually.

[00:15:18] Roishetta Ozane: Work together and build ourselves up. And we could move forward and then together we could come back and change those systems that were not helping them.

[00:15:28] Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we’ll chat more with Roishetta Ozane as she describes in detail her organization, The Vessel Project, and how they’re able to help residents during disasters. Plus, what happens when she’s had to confront or found herself in a face off with an industry executive, a state political leader, or an agency official in DC, how does she handle herself in those types of situations?

[00:16:05] Eddie Robinson: I’m Eddie Robinson. Our second segment of I SEE U comes your way in just a moment. We’ll be right back If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released Also, please take a minute To give us a review or comment, we love getting feedback from our listeners.

[00:16:45] Eddie Robinson: You’re listening to I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson, and we’re here with Roishetta Ozane, the founder of an organization that helps steer resources, financial resources to those people in need, especially during disaster relief. The group is called the Vessel Project of Louisiana. Roishetta joins us virtually from her home in

[00:17:07] Eddie Robinson: Sulphur, Louisiana.

[00:17:09] Eddie Robinson: And before we started our chat on air, I described to Ms. Ozane the basis of why I SEE U invited her as a guest on the show. I mentioned to her how the poet Langston Hughes was a real inspiration behind the concept of I SEE U. We finally get to have a seat at the table. Sort of an underlying theme. Let’s learn more as we continue our chat with community advocate, Roishetta Ozane.

[00:17:37] Eddie Robinson: You’ve really been impacted by a lot of events that’s happened, especially weather related with the hurricanes and you know, the devastation. You know, if you can kind of give us some insight into, you know, what has transpired in your life. And, and, and how it’s impacted you, you know, not only physically and, you know, with your family and everything, but also emotionally and mentally.

[00:18:03] Roishetta Ozane: Whenever Hurricane Katrina hit, I was working at the casino here in Lake Charles and we invited those evacuees from New Orleans to come to Lake Charles to stay at the Harris Casino. And I immediately began helping with those evacuees. Not knowing that. A few weeks later, we would be hit by Hurricane Rita.

[00:18:27] Roishetta Ozane: And so, when we were hit by Hurricane Rita, I lost everything. And me and my family moved back to Mississippi, where we were from, and I joined the AmeriCorps program. I did AmeriCorps for three years. And while in AmeriCorps, I did Habitats for Humanity. We helped with hurricane victims. And I also did other small community…

[00:18:47] Roishetta Ozane: efforts in various BIPOC communities in the Mississippi Delta. So, I decided to come back to Louisiana when I came back. Hurricane Harvey happened in Port Arthur. I helped with that cleanup and helped the people there. Port Arthur is very close to us here in Southwest Louisiana. Soon after that, a few years after that, here we are in the midst of a global pandemic and we’re hit by two major hurricanes, Laura and Delta.

[00:19:14] Roishetta Ozane: And again, me and my children lost everything, ended up staying in a hotel in Houston for a few months and figured out that FEMA was not set up to help us. FEMA needed and required too many things from people who were hurting and who had lost so much and could not grasp how to figure out how to give them what they were asking for.

[00:19:37] Roishetta Ozane: And so I started helping people just on the side. Helping people fill out their FEMA applications and help them meet appeals and, and different things like that. And so I finally just said, okay. I’m going to move back into my damaged home with my children, kind of sectioned the house off. We closed off the rooms that had mold.

[00:19:56] Roishetta Ozane: They had put a blue tarp over the roof where the hole was and boarded up the door. And so me and my six children were living in only half of the house until we were able finally to get a FEMA trailer. And just through my own struggles with that, with the system and my children and feeling helpless and hopeless and living in my van and living in a hotel.

[00:20:17] Roishetta Ozane: With six children, I didn’t know if I was going to have a mental breakdown or what because, you know, I love my children to death, but when you’re put in a place where it’s just one room and all of these people are looking at you like, what are we going to eat? Where are we going to go? You know what?

[00:20:31] Roishetta Ozane: You’re supposed to be saving us. And I’m looking like, who’s supposed to be saving me? And, and I just had to come out of it and start figuring out how to help my children and how through helping my children, I could help other people.

[00:20:46] Eddie Robinson: With the Vessel Project of Louisiana, you know, I mean, what’s been the reaction? What are you seeing?

[00:20:53] Roishetta Ozane: The reaction to the Vessel Project has been amazing. I like to say that mutual aid is mutual and the reason why it’s called the Vessel Project is because Roishetta, Roishetta Ozane As a single mom of six cannot afford to save the world. Okay. And so i’m just a vessel through which blessings flow out into the community People pour into it and I pour those things right out And so it has been amazing every time there is a need that need is made immediately.

[00:21:24] Roishetta Ozane: I just posted On Facebook, two days ago, I had a paraprofessional, which is an assistant teacher, who reached out and needed her light bill paid because they were going to disconnect her lights on yesterday. Posted it, and I’m telling you, within two minutes of the post, the need had been met. It was 400 approximately, and one individual sent the whole amount to my Venmo, and I immediately paid that teacher’s light bill, and I’m very transparent.

[00:21:51] Roishetta Ozane: You know, I, I show what the need is, I show when the need has been met, and I show how the need was met. And so people like that system. But what I realized in working like this is that bigger organizations, even government organizations, said, we Roishetta is going to save them, so we’re going to send them to her.

[00:22:11] Roishetta Ozane: So I get a lot of calls that come from, hey, my FEMA caseworker told me to call you, or my state worker said call you. And I’m like, well, they have the money, I don’t. So ask them where I can apply for some money from and of course I’ll help you because I’m just a small mutual aid organization. I’m not a big NGO or anything, you know, it’s just me.

[00:22:30] Roishetta Ozane: I don’t have a staff and I do this 24/7 because anytime somebody calls with an emergency, I answer the call. I like to be the last call they have to make. You shouldn’t have to call anybody else to assist you with your emergency once you get to The Vessel Project. I’ve been able to foster some good relationships and other organizations have regranted money from grants that they’ve gotten because they’re bigger and have bigger budgets.

[00:22:56] Roishetta Ozane: So they’re, they have access to larger grants and they’ll regrant some of that money back to me. I mean, The Power Coalition of Equity and Justice here in Louisiana, which is an organization out of New Orleans. They have been very instrumental and helpful with me with The Vessel Project, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, um, the Sierra Club, you know, several organizations.

[00:23:17] Roishetta Ozane: Who look at me and say, you’re doing the work that needs to be done. Here is how we want to help you and then money immediately goes right back into the community.

[00:23:27] Eddie Robinson: So this is personal, right?

[00:23:29] Roishetta Ozane: Yeah.

[00:23:29] Eddie Robinson: This is personal to you. This is something that you felt like, you know, if not me, then who?

[00:23:33] Roishetta Ozane: Right. And I know that’s also a mental health thing, but we’re not going to get into that because there’s other people who could do this too, right?

[00:23:43] Eddie Robinson: And is there a monetary struggle sometimes, you know, where, you know, there’s not much financial, you know, resource to go to go around to everyone? Is there a need there with the project that you’re working with?

[00:23:59] Roishetta Ozane: There is. And, you know, I wouldn’t say this if it hadn’t already been publicized, but a lot of the times when I don’t have the money in the organization, Then I take my money and I meet the need.

[00:24:12] Roishetta Ozane: And so I been known to put things that I need to the side in order to help other people. But I just feel like things are fleeting, right? Things, you know, after so many disasters, you learn that you can live without things and things go and things come. But as long as we have life, as long as we have those essential needs met.

[00:24:33] Roishetta Ozane: And so that’s what I do. It’s kind of like, you know, ebb and flow. Sometimes I don’t, I have a little money with the organization. Sometimes I have a handful, a lot of money and I can help more people. But when I can’t help you, you don’t get a no. It’s okay. Let me get right back to you. And they can, they can attest to the fact that I’m coming back and I always come back and I always help as soon as I can.

[00:24:58] Eddie Robinson: That mental peace, you know, it is a struggle. What do you say to people, you know, especially those In Louisiana, in the deep south, what hope do you give them?

[00:25:09] Roishetta Ozane: Well, you know, I, I have a line that I like to say, no one is good until we’re all good. But you said something at the beginning of this interview about Langston Hughes and what you don’t know is that I’ve always been a poet fanatic and I write poetry myself.

[00:25:27] Roishetta Ozane: And so, and so taking a line from that very same poem that you have, uh, Fashion this, this radio show after I too, you know, I tell them tomorrow I’ll be at the table when company comes, nobody will dare say to me, eat in the kitchen then, and so tomorrow, who is it gonna be? Who, who issue will be at the table tomorrow?

[00:25:52] Roishetta Ozane: Who will I be fighting for tomorrow? You never know who it’s gonna be, it might be you, it might be your children. So we need to solve these issues today. No one is good until we’re all good. And so I’m not doing this for me. I’m not doing this just for my children, but for all of us. And it’s better when we do it together.

[00:26:10] Roishetta Ozane: And so like you said, people are desensitized. People are like, oh, I don’t live there. Or when the hurricane is over and it’s kind of settled down. People stop giving, all of the vans pull out, the water stops flowing, you know, everybody likes to come in the community and hand out bottles of water after the hurricane, but it goes away, and people forget that it takes years for a community to recover after those type of disasters, and you know, people go back to living their lives. And so I continue to tell them, it may not be your fight today, but it could very well be your fight tomorrow. But if we change this system today, then you won’t have to fight tomorrow. So how do we change this system?

[00:26:53] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U. I’m Eddie Robinson. And we’re chatting with Roishetta Ozane, a community supporter, activist, and director of The Vessel Project of Louisiana. A small mutual aid organization that was founded in 2021 in the aftermath of several disasters that ravished parts of Southwest Louisiana. In addition to her advocacy work, she’s a single mother of six children.

[00:27:20] Eddie Robinson: Let’s go into some areas and some specific issues that you feel need to be addressed. What are some of those areas you believe, you know, really need to be explored or tapped into? Specific areas that someone needs to explore in terms of, you know, what’s happening in Louisiana. Um, that should be a priority, but no one seems to take it seriously.

[00:27:41] Roishetta Ozane: Um, in the state of Louisiana, we are over filled with oil and gas industry. We have several petrochemical facilities. We have a few LNG, which is liquefied natural gas facilities that are operating right now, but we have more than 20 sites that are proposed along the Gulf Coast between Texas and Mississippi, and no one is paying attention to where these industries are coming and who’s being impacted the most by it.

[00:28:11] Roishetta Ozane: It’s the same communities. When you look at that stretch of land. country, that stretch of America along the Gulf South is the same stretch of area that is the lowest in education, the lowest in income, the highest in health issues, the highest in imprisonment, that same area. And what is the connecting factor in that area?

[00:28:34] Roishetta Ozane: It’s race. It’s the highest. Population of low income BIPOC folks, uneducated low income BIPOC folks, right? And so these are the type of communities that are targeted for these type of projects and for projects that haven’t been tested anywhere else, such as carbon capture and storage. No one knows what’s going to happen when they store their carbon under the ground, if it’s going to explode, if it’s going to poison the soil, if it’s going to poison the water, where people can’t no longer grow and plant and farm on that land anymore.

[00:29:07] Roishetta Ozane: We don’t know what’s going to happen. Where does the government say we’re going to test it? In the South, in Black neighborhoods. No, it’s time out for that. We fight for environmental justice.

[00:29:18] Eddie Robinson: Have you ever confronted or, you know, found yourself in a situation where you run a face off with a company executive or even a community officer or a legislator, you know, what happened in that incident, go.

[00:29:30] Roishetta Ozane: All the time, every day, and so we have hearings for these, we have hearings for these facilities before they come, and there’s some pictures floating around in the internet with me looking very upset, and it’s probably at a hearing of some sort, uh, from what we have in, in Louisiana, of course, you know, we have parishes, we don’t have counties, and so the governance of the parish is run by the police jury, that’s what it’s called, and so each of those police jury members are elected.

[00:30:01] Roishetta Ozane: And right now, I believe we have three Black police jury members. Of course, they kind of govern over those Black areas of the parish. So yes, I found myself face to face with some that look just like me, who should be having the same concerns as me, but don’t, but you know how that goes. And so,

[00:30:21] Eddie Robinson: No, we don’t. What?

[00:30:22] Roishetta Ozane: Well.

[00:30:22] Eddie Robinson: Talk to us about that.

[00:30:23] Roishetta Ozane: Well, there’s a quote.

[00:30:24] Eddie Robinson: Because how does that make you feel? Go.

[00:30:27] Roishetta Ozane: There’s a quote that says all skin folk ain’t kinfolk. And it’s the truth. You know, um, everybody that looks like us ain’t for us. And some of us are persuaded by the almighty dollar. That green is mean and it speaks to them, right? And so I’ve had to come face to face with them, but more so with, uh, people here who are afraid and think that me fighting against the build out of these industries is going to stop jobs from coming here. It’s going to stop this. It’s going to halt this economy in some sort of way.

[00:31:02] Roishetta Ozane: But I asked him, what is it doing for you now? If you can’t pay your rent. What has that industry being next door to you done for you? You don’t work there. They haven’t come to your house and knocked on your door and say, is your rent paid? Do you need a new roof? Do you need to get out this cement trailer?

[00:31:18] Roishetta Ozane: What is this industry in your community doing for you now? So if it’s not doing anything for you right now, If it’s not helping you, it’s hindering you. So, why do you need another one to come here? You think if this one didn’t give you a job, that one is? No, it doesn’t work like that. And so those are the type of things that I try to open their eyes to see.

[00:31:41] Roishetta Ozane: Um, let’s take a tour of these industries. Let’s go see how close they are. Let’s go see the emissions. Bringing in special technology and special cameras where people can see that even when you don’t see a flare these industries are still flaring. And that’s when you see the fire coming from the top of the industries whenever you’re passing by.

[00:32:01] Roishetta Ozane: It’s called a flare. And that’s those emissions that they’re releasing into the air. Methane, soot, all of those things that are coming. LNG that are coming into our atmosphere that we’re breathing. I ask them questions like, how many people do you know with cancer? Does your children have asthma? How many other children do you know with asthma?

[00:32:18] Roishetta Ozane: What other health issues do you have that’s not genetic? Like did your grandparents have this issue? Did your parents have this issue? But now your children have it. That’s not a genetic thing That’s directly related to the environment you’re living in and so trying to make those cases for us, you know People we just don’t understand again.

[00:32:37] Roishetta Ozane: We don’t when we can’t see touch or feel feel something. A lot of times we don’t understand the impact of it. It has to hit close to home. You have to feel it right. And I think right now, after these hurricanes have happened and so many people are still in FEMA trailers still have blue tarps on their roof.

[00:32:55] Roishetta Ozane: This is the time when people are asking questions. So right now, where we are after these disasters, people are starting to ask questions about why these storms were so intense and why they happened so close together. So now is a better opportunity for us to talk about climate change and the environment and what’s impacting it.

[00:33:15] Roishetta Ozane: You know, but that’s the local fight. The local fight is… People believe that industry is going to come and give them jobs and it’s going to help their communities. That’s local. But then when I’m in D. C. and I’m in front of the EPA, when I’m in front of FERC, I brought the FERC commissioners from their offices in D. C. here to Southwest. Louisiana and Southeast Texas, gave them a tour, fed them some good food, introduced them to community members. They sat and they conversed with them, ate with them, gave speeches, and they still went back to D.C. and they, uh, approved Commonwealth LNG, which is a massive LNG facility. Now FERC is a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

[00:33:59] Roishetta Ozane: And so they govern a lot of these facilities that are coming to these neighborhoods where right now. We have Commissioner Willie Phillips, who is a Black man from Alabama. So he’s a black man from the South who grew up near industry. And he should relate with us, right? He should understand what we’re dealing with.

[00:34:21] Roishetta Ozane: And so we’re going to put pressure on him to stop the build out of these industries. And we’re going to show, you know, who cares, who cares about us. Who really is, has been put in office by voters and by their constituents to help us who’s really going to keep their word when it comes to using their power to impact change on these communities. And so he’s, he’s up right now.

[00:34:44] Eddie Robinson: What’s been his reaction? If any?

[00:34:47] Roishetta Ozane: He’s always said that, you know, he’s, he’s there as a voice for, uh, BIPOC frontline communities from the South. But again, he proved otherwise when he was one of the commissioners who voted to approve Commonwealth LNG, he could have said no with four other votes.

[00:35:08] Roishetta Ozane: It was going to pass anyway. So even to say face with him, if you would have said no, we would have taken, you know, that would have been you giving us your word and sticking to it. And it would have passed and we would have said, well, it wasn’t because of you. Cause you said no, but yet you went with the majority and you said yes. And you voted yes on it.

[00:35:28] Eddie Robinson: You know, some of these places have been in these situations since the eighties. I mean, you know, perhaps even earlier.

[00:35:37] Roishetta Ozane: You know, when we look at the time like that, Eddie, I like to say, you know, as Black people. We’ve always been in some sort of fight. Like I was saying earlier, so when, when, when we were slaves and we were out there in the cotton fields and in the fields, picking cotton, doing whatever, you know, there was somebody there that was picking that cotton who had the thought.

[00:35:58] Roishetta Ozane: That one day I’m gonna be free and that person continued to pick that cotton, but they continue with that thought of, I’m gonna be free one day. There was also several people who thought out, we’ll never be free. Oh, this will never work. We’re going to be picking this cotton forever to the day, to the day we die.

[00:36:16] Roishetta Ozane: And they probably died like that. But then hope of that one day we’ll be free that came to fruition because somebody believed that we could be free one day and they fought for our freedom. And that’s what we have to continue to do. We know we’ve been here a long time and we’ve had several fights and a lot of these fights that we’ve had to fight have looked like we were never going to win.

[00:36:41] Roishetta Ozane: You know, it’s always looked like the odds have been stacked up against us. They’ve always had more money. They’ve always had more power, but we have won several fights. We shouldn’t still have to be fighting in 2023, but the reality is we are, and until more of us are at the table, more of us are in positions of power, and more of us from frontline, marginalized communities are at the table, then we’re going to continue to fight.

[00:37:09] Roishetta Ozane: That’s why we have to raise up these leaders. That’s why we have to support organizing. Organizing is what’s going to get us out of this, organizing within our community, bring people together, educating them, getting them to run for office. You know, that’s how we’re going to change and make these changes that are going to be long lasting.

[00:37:30] Roishetta Ozane: And we’re going to win this fight, but we’re going to have to win them one fight at a time, and we’re going to have to win them together.

[00:37:36] Eddie Robinson: Yeah, it’s that Soul Food fist that I mentioned earlier. Organized efforts. Striking a mighty blow. Good point.

[00:37:47] Eddie Robinson: Coming up, we wrap up our chat with community advocate, Roishetta Ozane. We’ll learn more about her recent trip to Houston, as she was a guest speaker at the 10 Across Summit. It’s a conference where thought leaders and experts share insight and discuss solutions related to infrastructure, climate change, and notions of equity.

[00:38:08] Eddie Robinson: Plus, we’ll have a conversation about Storm PTSD, where survivors of life changing natural disasters face an increased risk of developing anxiety and depression of future storm related events. What’s being done to address these challenges? I’m Eddie Robinson, a final segment of I SEE U happens in just a moment.

[00:38:31] Eddie Robinson: We’ll be right back.

[00:38:38] Eddie Robinson: If you’re enjoying this program, please be sure to subscribe to our podcast. I SEE U with Eddie Robinson. You can hear all the past episodes and be notified when new episodes are released. Also, please take a minute to give us a review or comment. We love getting feedback from our listeners.

[00:38:56] Eddie Robinson: It’s

[00:39:11] Eddie Robinson: I SEE U. I’m your host, Eddie Robinson, and we’re chatting with Roishetta Ozane, founder of the Vessel Project, a grassroots mutual aid group in Southwest Louisiana, Roishetta has been an outspoken critic of the expansion of export facilities for liquefied natural gas in the Lake Charles area. She fears that air quality and emissions from those facilities and other industries mixed with worsening storms and hurricanes will continue to destroy the climate.

[00:39:38] Eddie Robinson: And so she’s raised money, organized food drives and helped residents and neighbors from across the region navigate federal agencies to get the relief that they need when disasters strike. Miss Ozane wants all people, regardless of race or political affiliation, to build solidarity to combat climate change within this fragile Gulf Coast region.

[00:39:59] Eddie Robinson: As these industries continue to expand and impact coastal wetlands, small towns and cities like the area where she’s from remain vulnerable to bigger storms. and rising seas. So you can tell she’s passionate about all of this because she’s a single mom of six. She’s chatting with us from one of the most threatened areas of our country when it comes to weather related disasters and regional petrochemical plants. Sulfur Louisiana.

[00:40:24] Eddie Robinson: Roishetta again. Thanks so much for being here. And before we start to wrap up our chat, I’ve got to ask you this. Do you think climate change can be reversed or Is it too much, too little, too late?

[00:40:37] Roishetta Ozane: I believe that the damage that has been done has been done right. But I do believe that we can stop the damage where we are.

[00:40:45] Roishetta Ozane: So I always like to use a scenario of an ant farm. You know, if you’ve ever seen an ant farm, it’s in that clear glass aquarium. And there are several ants in there and they’re moving along during the work. And they’re building up the, the, the piles within it. But as soon as it tips over, those ants run out.

[00:41:04] Roishetta Ozane: They, they, they, they’re like, they’re immediately free and they start running out of that ant form and they’re going every which way. So do you chase after the ants that are running away, or do you turn that ant farm back over so no more ants get out? You’re gonna turn it back over to stop more ants from getting out before you chase the ones that are out, right?

[00:41:25] Roishetta Ozane: And so that’s what we have to do. We have to stop what’s coming. Stop what’s proposed before we can go out already here because what’s already here is here. That damage is done. But if we continue to bring more here and we continue to pollute and we continue to build on our wetlands and we continue to build in our waterways, we continue to pollute it, we are never going to rid ourselves of the problem because we’re going to just be piling a problem on top of a problem.

[00:41:52] Roishetta Ozane: We have to first stop it. We have to create laws and stronger rules and stronger regulations to ensure that these type of. Extractive industries and facilities and these major polluters don’t come here. Once we can do that, then we can go after the ones that are already here. And so that’s the fight in Louisiana.

[00:42:13] Roishetta Ozane: We have so many proposed when we already are overflowing with them. So where are these new ones even gonna go? You know, the fact that our coastline is diminishing, the fact that land loss is real, the fact that they are building on our wetlands, which is our natural surge. Storm surge protection. It’s real.

[00:42:32] Roishetta Ozane: The facts are there. The proof is in the science and until we can look at those numbers and see how we’re being impacted by it, it’s never going to change. And so what can we do? We can use this land the way it was intended to be used. Louisiana is a sportsman’s paradise. Let’s fish more, let’s hunt more, let’s use green spaces more to plant trees, to make community gardens, to plant and grow our food, you know, to enriching our soil, bring in renewable solutions, renewable energy, wind energy, solar energy, you know, there are so many solutions and the culture of Louisiana and the workforce, the way people have already been trained to work at these oil and gas industries, they can use those same skills for building renewable energy plants, you know, wind and solar plants. They need welders. They need electricians They need those same type of skill sets at those type of facilities that don’t harm our climate and our waterways.

[00:43:36] Eddie Robinson: You know, earlier in 2023, Roishetta, you were invited to be a guest speaker at the 10 Across Summit here in Houston. It’s a massive conference where community leaders and researchers along the I-10 corridor address issues related to infrastructure that impact not only the southern part of the United States, but also the entire country. And for those who might be listening to the show, say in Germany. The Interstate 10 Corridor is a stretch or a body of freeway from Los Angeles to Houston to Jacksonville, Florida, and all the many places and areas in between.

[00:44:16] Eddie Robinson: And so since all these cities and municipalities across the I-10 Corridor face similar issues, especially as it relates to weather and the environment, organizers of this event felt the need to join forces with other organizations to deal with those issues and try to come up with solutions, areas like energy, commerce, land use, issues related to equity, like you’ve mentioned throughout this episode, failures around race, failures around ethnicity, failures around class, all of this was discussed at this conference called 10 Across. Roishetta, what was a huge takeaway for you from the summit?

[00:44:53] Roishetta Ozane: A huge takeaway from this summit for me was first is that they’re listening to me because I was the person in the room. Always said that we need more people from frontline and fifth line communities to have a seat at the table But also there wasn’t enough of me in the room We need to bring in the people of these communities that are impacted because the people closest to the problem are the people closest to the solution. So we’re really and truly trying to find equitable, just solutions. We need the people who are impacted to be there to help guide us.

[00:45:33] Eddie Robinson: It makes me think that they need a Roishetta in Beaumont, a Roishetta in Orange, Texas, in Lafayette, Louisiana, Baton Rouge, New Orleans.

[00:45:46] Roishetta Ozane: Yes, yes. They need people representing these communities, these marginalized, Black, indigenous, people of color communities from the Appalachians all the way to the Gulf South.

[00:45:57] Eddie Robinson: It’s I SEE U, Eddie Robinson here, and we’re chatting with Roishetta Ozane. She leads an organization called The Vessel Project of Louisiana. It provides mutual aid and relief to BIPOC communities, as well as the elderly. Single parents and low income residents get back on their feet when natural disasters hit.

[00:46:16] Eddie Robinson: If you can think back about an incident… Something that transpired that was just so racist to you and you felt extremely discriminated against, but you just can’t seem to get that incident out of your mind. You know, it, it really rings true to racism. It really rings true to discrimination. Um, and it just makes you feel some kind of way. Every time you think about this incident, what happened, what is it?

[00:46:48] Roishetta Ozane: Well, this incident is not only racist, but it’s misogynistic and it had to do with hearing. Louisiana, of course, we’re fighting out the petrochemical and LNG build out and there was an explosion last year at Westlake Chemical and I just happened to be living in my FEMA trailer at the time and I heard this loud explosion.

[00:47:09] Roishetta Ozane: The trailer shook. And when I opened the front door, I could see this big black plume of smoke. So I jumped in my car barefoot and I drove towards the smoke. Um, my children were at school in Westlake and it looked like that smoke was in the direction of Westlake where my children were at school.

[00:47:32] Roishetta Ozane: So I drove to that plume of smoke and I started going live on Facebook and just telling people what was going on. Ultimately, there was an explosion at Westlake Chemical. People were hurt. There were several ambulances, several emergency personnel on the scene.

[00:47:51] Roishetta Ozane: There was a shelter in place. We couldn’t leave the community. And so as I’m giving my account of what happened, this older white man who works in the environmental justice industry, who’s been been doing this for several years, 40 years, 40 plus years. He, he proceeds to say that there is no way I could have smelled what I smelled from my front door, saw the smoke from my front door, and that people like me were going to be the cause of folks not believing us when we say things, and I had to show him my live video from Facebook.

[00:48:31] Roishetta Ozane: And thank God I went live, but you know, the fact that we have to prove ourselves over and over the fact that I feel like I need a master’s degree to be in the room with some folks so that they know that I’m educated and I’m not just speaking from experience, but I’m speaking from education as well from research as well.

[00:48:51] Roishetta Ozane: The fact that I feel like I have to be a certain way or stand a certain way or look a certain way. The statements that he made, stays with me in every room that I’m in because I feel like I gotta bring this proof the burden of proof is on me I have to bring this stack of facts with me everywhere that I go so that the people who don’t look like me can believe What the words that are coming out of my mouth as if I’m making these things up And so it’s just it’s just stuck with me and it gives me chills And it it really makes me want to throw up when I think about that’s the reason why So many of us don’t want to fight because we’re not only fighting this thing in this system We’re fighting each other and the people who are supposed to be on our side a lot of times We’re fighting them and we’re fighting people who look like us and people in communities with us and it just never ends And so it’s too much for some people to handle and that PTSD is real, you know And so I thank God that I’m strong enough to continue to do it.

[00:49:54] Roishetta Ozane: And then my, my skin is sticking that whenever you fight me, I fight back and I fight harder. And so, uh, he was dismissed from a lot of those emails and calls and he can’t, he can’t reach me like he wants to anymore, but that’ll never leave my mind.

[00:50:11] Eddie Robinson: Wow. So powerful. Any advice you would consider giving to someone who has some form of interest in environmental justice and wants to be inspired or, you know, Or wants to inspire others to be a part of this advocacy.

[00:50:29] Roishetta Ozane: My advice is simple. It starts with you. And in the words of Nike, just do it. We’ve been asking for a seat at the table for too long, not to take that seat and use our voice. And if they don’t offer us a seat, what did they say? Build your own table, build your own seat, make your own lane, make sure that what you’re doing, you’re doing it because not only, not only because you’re impacted, but how would, what would happen if you don’t fight? Think about you not fighting. What will happen if you don’t do it? And that should be your reason to do it.

[00:51:11] Eddie Robinson: Someone said bring a lawn chair.

[00:51:13] Roishetta Ozane: Ha ha. Ha ha. A lawn chair, a bench, you know.

[00:51:20] Eddie Robinson: Something to the table.

[00:51:21] Roishetta Ozane: Bring something.

[00:51:26] Eddie Robinson: Of all that you’ve experienced, what you’ve had to endure, what your family has gone through, what you’ve had to acknowledge and address through your organization, Vessel Project of Louisiana, what life lessons have you learned about yourself?

[00:51:43] Roishetta Ozane: I’ve learned that again, like I said, at the beginning of this call, when I say, if not me, then who I’ve learned that that has everything to do with my mental state. I feel like I do it because I have a need and a desire to be safe and for my children to be safe and a need to feel at home and to feel like I belong.

[00:52:05] Roishetta Ozane: And so I know that it has everything to do with my mental space. I Because there are other people who could do this, but there is something that’s keeping them from doing it. So what is it that’s me that I could pass on to you to make you want to do this, like, you know, to, to fight like this? And so I, I continue to, you know, battle with that, struggle with that, try to figure that out and pull that out of me.

[00:52:32] Roishetta Ozane: That’s what I’ve learned about myself. I always want to make things better and try to figure things out. I’m an empath. And so I take in all of your worry and I want to solve that for you because I want you to be able to be the best you, you can be, and you can’t be the best you, you can be. If you have all of these struggles that you’re dealing with, how can we collectively solve that problem so that you don’t have to deal with that so that you can go out and save the world.

[00:53:03] Eddie Robinson: She’s the mother of six. And saving the world. Um, also the founder, director, and CEO of The Vessel Project of Louisiana, a mutual aid organization that provides emergency assistance to some of our most vulnerable BIPOC community members. Roishet Ozanean, thank you so much for being a guest on I SEE U.

[00:53:26] Roishetta Ozane: Thank you again, Eddie.

[00:53:30] Eddie Robinson: Our team includes Technical Director Todd Hulslander, Producer Laura Walker, Editors Mark DiClaudio and Jonmitchell Goode. I SEE U is a production of Houston Public Media. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter (Now known as X) and subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen and download your favorite shows. I’m your host and executive producer, Eddie Robinson, and I feel you.

[00:53:56] Eddie Robinson: We hear you. I SEE U. Thanks so much for listening until next time.

 

This article is part of the podcast I SEE U with Eddie Robinson

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