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Arnold Mikolo knows a thing or two about finding his footing in a new place. He came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of theCongo when he was 20 years old and moved to New Hampshire in 2012 by way of New York.
In the Granite State, he got his start working for nonprofits and for the past three years, he’s been a community advocate on environmental justice issues for the Conservation Law Foundation in Manchester. He also chairs the mayor’s multicultural committee and is vice president of the Manchester NAACP.
We spoke with Mikolo about how neighborhood highways in Manchester are an environmental justice issue and his work to make the city safer for low-income residents of color.
Two-lane highways on Maple, Beech, Pine, and Chestnut streets have been one focus of Mikolo’s work. One problem section of road is adjacent to the Beech Street Elementary School, and a crash analysis by the city shows that residents are right to be concerned, according to Mikolo.
“There’s this constant fear that my son or my daughter may get hit by a car,” Mikolo said, pointing out that families worry for kids who have to cross the street to go to school.
The neighborhood is racially diverse with Black, Hispanic, and Asian residents, and it’s one of the poorest census tracts not only in the state but in the country, Mikolo said.
According to the EPA’s environmental justice screening tool, the neighborhood ranks in the 97th percentile for how many people have asthma, the 91st percentile for low life expectancy, and the 97th percentile for low income. And while the city reconfigured a similar neighborhood highway in a more affluent part of the city, the poorer part of Manchester has not yet been improved. Mikolo said his group is keeping the pressure on to ensure they get the same treatment.
“This is where the concept of environmental justice comes in,” he said. “You have community members carrying all the burden they did not create, but oftentimes are left behind when it comes to implementing environmental benefits.”
Looking forward, Mikolo said community advocates will work with the nonprofit Plan New Hampshire to help design a solution. On July 21 and 22, there will be community meetings focused on that work. Stay tuned for information on how you can help.