Per capita, Dallas Freetown Joppa is the most polluted neighborhood in the city. A $356,000 environmental study for Joppa was therefore announced last year, but some of Joppa’s biggest advocates will not be part of a committee overseeing the study.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the three-year research project will analyze pollution in Joppa and its effects on residents. It’s called the Joppa Environmental Health Project, and it’s shared by A&M University and Downwinders at Risk, a local environmental advocacy group.
The money will allow A&M scientists to study the correlation between the particles and the health of approximately 1,000 residents of the community.
Invitations have been sent to residents of the Joppa community to form a community oversight committee for the project. At the time it was announced, Adam Bazaldua, the Dallas City Council member representing Joppa, applauded Downwinders and Joppa resident Temeckia Derrough for helping bring the project to fruition. Derrough is also the founder of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association.
Now Derrough has said she feels she and another community member are left out of the project. “We feel our rights are being violated,” she said. She blames Downwinders, but the group says Derrough is represented on the committee.
Her relationship with the local environmental group began when she was battling the development of a concrete plant in Joppa in 2018. Downwinders reached out to her for help. She said they started doing a lot of research on the community and educating them about the environment.
When the grant arrived and invitations for the committee were sent out, Derrough said she was told that as president of the Joppa Freedman’s Town Association, she could not serve on the committee and had to send a proxy instead. “Why should I send someone to represent me in my community in which I live?” she says.
Misti O’Quinn, Downwinders’ community liaison for the project, said there were interpersonal issues that prevented them from letting Derrough have his own seat on the committee. She said there was infighting between Derrough and Shaldria Galimore, president of the South Central Civic League, a neighborhood association in the area. Because of those issues, the committee came up with the idea of letting Derrough and Galimore send in a power of attorney, O’Quinn said.
“The problem is not that your organization is represented and your thoughts are heard if when you walk into the room there is conflict or contention and it ends up taking most of the time in any space planning,” O’Quinn said. “It was expressed that people in the community did not want to deal with her.”
She insisted that all decisions were made by the people of Joppa. “They are the last word,” she said. If there’s no unanimous decision on the committee to bring Derrough in, there’s nothing else she can do, O’Qinn said.
The steering committee is still in the preliminary stages. On Saturday, Downwinders helped the committee sponsor its first open house. Derrough showed up to confront committee members and others involved with the project. In addition to not having her own place at the table, Derrough took issue with what she called a lack of transparency with the grant.
Derrough said she knew Downwinders was in talks about the grant, but was not told they were going to pull the trigger on the project. Since then, she said she hadn’t seen the grant and how it was written. On her trip to the open house, she was told that she would receive the grant proposal this week.
Galimore, the president of the South Central Civic League, doesn’t like that she has to send in a proxy. Although she would like to have her own place at the table, she thinks it is especially important that Derrough has his place. She said the project would be better in the long run if Derrough was able to represent himself on the committee. “She got to work. She’s more passionate about it,” Galimore said. “She knows that better than anyone.”
Derrough said if she had her own place on the committee, the situation would be rectified. But O’Quinn said there was too much animosity between Derrough and the committee.
Whichever way they move forward, beneath the drama remains an opportunity to find valuable information about the environment and community health in Joppa.