When Geovaira Hernandez ᾽17, MS ᾽19 first came to Canisius, she didn’t know what the term activism meant.
Today, she is proud to be a part of the reason that New York State recently passed the most progressive and aggressive climate legislation in the country. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, calls for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“It’s a huge victory,” says Hernandez. “However, we need more justice measures written into law for frontline communities and communities of color, who often bear the worst impacts of climate change.”
People of color and those who live in low-income communities often live in areas with the worst air quality and are most susceptible to flooding or other weather hazards. Meanwhile, higher-income individuals, mega-corporations and business magnates have the resources to avoid the effects of pollution on the environment.
As climate and environmental justice organizer for PUSH Buffalo, Hernandez advocates for change at the local, state and national level. She develops curriculum for the local community on environmental policy, racism and classism.
“People of all races and socio-economic backgrounds deserve to live in a clean, healthy environment,” says Hernandez. “We should strive for more renewable, regenerative resources.”
The mission of PUSH Buffalo is to mobilize residents to create strong neighborhoods with quality, affordable housing; to expand local hiring opportunities; and to advance economic and environmental justice in Buffalo.
As a young Latina growing up in the Bronx, Hernandez’s neighborhood was located in close proximity to three courthouses.
“I grew up with African Americans and Latinos but the police I saw going in and out of courts were white and in positions of power,” she said. “Many people I know had been through the system and I wanted to change that and represent my community.”
Hernandez, who majored in criminal justice, wanted to get out of New York City and fell in love with Canisius on a campus tour. Once classes were in session, she admittedly felt a bit like a fish out of water as one of a handful of Latina students. Then, Richard Reitsma, PhD, chair and associate professor of modern languages, and Sababu Norris, director of the ALANA Student Center, helped her to resurrect LASAF (Latin American Students and Friends).
“I really wanted to find a way to have my culture represented,” she said. “The great thing is that students of all backgrounds came to our events.”
And, her career path of entering law enforcement took a turn during her senior year when Reitsma introduced her to PUSH Buffalo.
“I honestly started going to PUSH events just to get off campus,” says Hernandez. “But Richard saw something in me that I didn’t. I needed to find it out for myself.”
After attending a national conference with PUSH in Washington, D.C., she became inspired.
"I learned that many systems aren't working in our communities but people are working to change that," she says. "I saw a means of solidarity and I wanted to become a part of the movement."
Hernandez was likely an activist all along. She just didn't know it.