Man turns $20,000 environmental justice grant into $270 million city revitalization

South Carolina State Representative Harold Mitchell, Jr. has been committed to making the Arkwright and Forest Park neighborhoods within Spartanburg healthy and sustainable communities by advancing environmental justice, collaborative problem solving, and better neighborhood planning. He created the organization ReGenesis to represent neighborhood interests in cleaning up contaminated and abandoned property as well as revitalizing the surrounding community.

In the late 1990s, Mitchell led what began as an individual effort — but which would balloon into a community, and eventually statewide effort — to create support for the cleanup of and investment in the Arkwright and Forest Park communities. These low-income communities are nestled between waste sites and an active chemical plant. Mitchell created the ReGenesis Project to bridge gaps in economic development and spur community recovery in neighborhoods that were underserved, underresourced, and overburdened.

According to the 2000 Census, the Arkwright and Forest Park communities had a combined population of 5,000 residents — the poverty rate was 25 percent and 10 percent of the population was unemployed. Residents of these predominately low-income and African American communities were living among six brownfields sites, two hazardous waste sites and an active chemical manufacturing plant. The communities faced environmental and health issues, and the economic base eroded over time.

Mitchell’s founding of ReGenesis, a nonprofit group that spearheaded environmental cleanup of a closed fertilizer plant in his neighborhood, started the momentum for community recovery.

Equally important, Mitchell was successful in leveraging an initial grant of $20,000 from the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice into $270 million worth of community investment.

From the website of the 2017 National Environmental Justice Conference:
The Honorable Harold Mitchell of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is a lifelong resident of his community. He was born in Spartanburg as the 1st of three sons of SGT. Harold Mitchell and Margaret V. Mitchell. In 1988 he married Wanda Dawkins and three children Elizabeth, David and Hannah have been created from this union. Harold attended Spartanburg High School and played football at SC STATE, and USC. He spent years recovering from a still undiagnosed illness that led to his inquiries about the IMC Fertilizer plant that occupied a large lot immediately across the street from the Mitchell family home on 505 North Street in the Arkwright Neighborhood. The record of Representative Mitchell’s achievement in the creation of the ReGenesis Project are well established in the work of the Environmental Justice, Environmental movements, and in that of the Environmental Protection Agency. Achievement within these arenas and in related areas, are reflected in the numerous awards and recognitions he has received.

See full Planning magazine article about Mitchell’s APA prize.

See website for Environmental Justice conference.

Watch 3-minute video.

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