Tonye Fohsta LynchThis fall, the Center for Climate, Health and Equity is spotlighting the 10 health equity and climate justice champions it sponsored to attend APHA’s July 2019 #ClimateChangesHealth Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp in Washington, D.C. Today’s conversation is with Tonye Fohsta-Lynch, a graduate student and Center for Excellence in Maternal and Child Health Scholar at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine pursuing her MPH in Maternal and Child Health.

Q: Why are you passionate about climate and health equity?

A: In 2014, I interned with APHA’s Component Affairs team with Fran Atkinson. At this time, APHA was helping to organize the first People’s Climate March, and I created blog materials and press deliverables.

This experience exposed me to climate change and the implications it has, not only when thinking about the planet, but also when considering how it impacts everything from housing to food and water.

I moved to Houston in 2015 to teach middle school and begin practicing as a doula. Many of the women I’ve worked with are from underserved communities and already have issues accessing quality housing, food and education.

Children, and more specifically children in low-income communities of color, are disproportionately affected by climate change, especially in a place like Houston that is prone to flooding, poor air quality and extreme heat.

Q: What does advocating for climate and health equity mean to you?

A: Advocating for climate and health equity means influencing decisionmakers to consider the health of the communities they serve when making decisions that can impact climate. In Houston, this could mean considering sources of renewable energy instead of oil and gas. It means encouraging partnerships with organizations that are working to solve climate-related issues.

It means continuing to share my story about how I’ve seen climate change affect those in my life and in my community. It means using social media to engage decisionmakers, continue the conversation about climate change and encourage members of the community to participate in campaigns. I am committed to lifting the voices of those most affected to encourage change.

Advocating for climate and health equity also means ensuring that elected officials, health care providers and other groups that regularly interact with our community members, such as schools, are aware of the impact of climate change. They need the necessary tools and resources to communicate with families and ensure preparedness of communities.

Q: What message and experience do you most value from the two-day Speak for Health Advocacy Bootcamp?

A: The bootcamp helped me recognize the importance of telling my personal story as a tool for effective advocacy. This was the most impactful message because it allowed me to connect on a personal level with my elected officials during the Hill meetings, and to shed light on the effect that climate change has on the health of people in my community.

The most rewarding part of the two-day experience was my opportunity to meet with Congressman Vincente Gonzalez one-on-one. As a teacher, I know that the lives and health of children are important to him, not only because of the community he serves, but also because his wife is a teacher.

I was able to share my personal story as a witness to the mental stress and anxiety my students faced in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They worried about where they would live, where they would get their next meal, how they would even be able to get to school because they lost everything they had.

Having the opportunity to share the stories of my students and prioritize the impact of mental health as a result of the climate crisis allowed for meaningful dialogue about what could be done to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Learn more about how APHA is helping the next generation of public health professionals take action on climate change. And submit your application by Nov. 17 for the Center for Climate, Health and Equity’s new Student Champions for Climate Justice awards!