I was born and raised in Belle Glade, Florida. I grew up seeing some of the impacts of the pre-harvest sugar cane burning that exposes my community to toxic smoke and ash every year. However, I gained an entirely new perspective when I began working at a local urgent care after graduating from high school.
It was summer when I started working there, so the burn season hadn't begun. Yet parents were coming in asking for medical tools like nebulizers (machines that spray a fine, liquid mist of medicine). They wanted to make sure that they had these tools on hand for when the sugar cane burning started.
... as I watched my people struggle to get access to the medications and care that they needed, I felt stuck.
The majority of the residents in Belle Glade are on Medicaid. A lot of people think that Medicaid covers everything, but it doesn't. A lot of the medications, prescription refills, inhalers, and other medical needs that people have that worsen during the sugar cane harvest aren't covered by their insurance.
I was working at the urgent care center because I wanted to go into nursing as a way to help people. But as I watched my people struggle to get access to the medications and care that they needed, I felt stuck. Instead, I decided to try to help my community from a different angle -- by advocating against the harmful practice of pre-harvest sugar cane burning.
A lot of people in my community are scared to speak out ... Their jobs literally depend on them staying silent.
That next fall I became an intern with the Stop the Burn Campaign, and have been working on this issue ever since. Even though I'm going to college 400 miles away from home, I am trying to spread the news about this issue wherever I can.
A lot of people in my community are scared to speak out because of their ties to the sugar industry. Their jobs literally depend on them staying silent. Nobody in my family works for the Sugar Cane Growers, so I can be vulnerable in ways that people that are suffering the most can't. People are taking advantage of my community, and it needs to stop.
The more that Congress hears about how important this issue is to folks across the country, the more likely they are to modify the Farm Bill to incentivize burn-free harvesting methods. Tell Congress to stop the burn!