In high school, Dolores wanted to write textbooks; but the day she saw the seed she planted herself at Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision’s Cadillac Urban Gardens had sprouted a tiny leaf, everything changed.
“That’s when I knew I didn’t want to let go of this feeling and I want to make sure other kids have this feeling,” says Dolores Perales while sitting at her desk working for the very same organization she planted seeds with in high school.
Dolores, 23, her parents, and her three younger brothers, have lived in Southwest Detroit for her entire life. This area of Detroit, enclosed in factories, oil refineries, and the haze left behind by the constant passing and idling of diesel trucks, makes this area one of the most polluted in the state.
In the summers Dolores made sure to pack her inhaler anywhere she went, it was normal to her, she’d had asthma for years. She didn’t know her asthma was a byproduct of the environment she was living in until she realized her younger brother, her cousin down the street, the kids in the neighborhood, and so many people in her life also had asthma. It was not a coincidence.
In highschool, Dolores worked for a publishing company, as she imagined a future writing environmental textbooks for students who wanted to make changes in their community. Around this time she also started volunteering at Cadillac Urban Gardens where the literal and figurative seed was planted.
“(Cadillac Urban Gardens) really changed my perspective on built environments and how your built environment can directly impact your life, your health, your livelihoods, whatever it may be. It totally changed the trajectory that I was on in high school,” Dolores begins, “It’s really cool to write about it, but I want to be a part of the doing… I want to be the one doing the thing and making the impacts that I want to see because there’s obviously issues here and I want to make that change.”
Dolores received her bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University in environmental studies and sustainability, with a minor in global public health while taking on a leadership role in the Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences group on campus. She is currently working on dual masters degrees, one in environmental justice and one in urban and regional planning with a focus in climate change adaptation planning.
Today, as the Environment and Community Sustainability Specialist for Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, Dolores researches, develops, and maintains greenspaces in her community. She designs and implements programs for adults and youth to get involved, make an impact, and experience the same feeling she felt when she saw that tiny leaf years ago.
Community input is at the forefront of the decision making process in Dolores’ work, and she believes it should be at the forefront of lawmakers’ work when taking action on climate change.
“I don’t think they understand why it’s so important to these communities that we make these changes– because we are tired. We’re tired of living in the ways we’ve been living and without laws and policies to back up our claims, to back up our feelings, to back up the changes that need to be made, nothing is going to happen and people are going to continue to get hurt.”
“Now is the time to invest in the Build Back Better Agenda, because if we keep pushing climate action aside any longer, the effects of climate change, the effects of all these different aspects are going to continue to get worse and worse and worse until there’s not going to be any solution.”