Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds (on right, in blue shirt) pictured at the rally. Photo credit: Josie Gonçalves of Public Square, the online newspaper.
“My passion for water-related issues started when I was living in Venezuela in Latin America. It rained over a couple of days and my house flooded; it was basically like a river. I had to go to the back of the house and punch holes in the back wall to let the water flow through. There was one and a half or two feet of water in my house. Our neighbors came, one brought another and they brought another, and we were all there with buckets, throwing the water out of the house.” Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds–co-chair of the Newark Environmental Commission, executive director of Weequahic Park Association, and board member of Clean Water Action, among many other things—shared the origins of her work in water. “When I was confronted with [water-related threats like flooding] and it was part of my reality, I got a different perspective on what other people were going through and I became more aware.”
“Water is something we need. We cannot survive without water, our planet is mostly made up of water. To pollute it, to me, is like we’re committing suicide. We’re intentionally hurting ourselves with the idea that future generations will fix it,” said Wynnie-Fred explained the magnitude of the water crisis, which drives her to be a leader on water issues in her home community in Newark. “If a kid is constantly getting sick and missing school because of lead poisoning, that is a detriment. One person who might be able to contribute positively to society can’t because of our actions, or inaction.”
Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds is a member of the Jersey WaterCheck (JWC) Data Advisory Committee, and has dedicated much of her career to addressing water issues and promoting community-level action. Wynnie-Fred has spent over 20 years working with private, public, grassroots organizations and businesses on issues related to the environment, sustainability, public health, and recreation with various NJ organizations, local officials, and stakeholders. She organizes in her community in Newark to get people involved in efforts to create tangible solutions to issues affecting the environment, health, and quality of life in New Jersey. Much of this work has been made possible through the use of reliable, community-oriented data that is available on the Jersey WaterCheck website.
The Jersey WaterCheck website provides stakeholders, policymakers, and advocacy organizations, with easy access to data on New Jersey’s stormwater, drinking water, and wastewater systems. This information can inform policy and advocacy efforts on a range of issues, including flooding, combined sewer overflow systems, and drinking water contamination.
“[The value of Jersey WaterCheck is that] it’s something concrete. I can refer people to the website and say, “Look, experts were involved in creating this, not just me. Sometimes, people are not as trusting. They’ll say, “Well, show it to me. How do I know you’re telling the truth, especially with so much misinformation out there?” As a former teacher and founding executive director of Stepping Stones Resources, a non-profit advocacy organization which educates the community about social and environmental issues, Wynnie-Fred’s passion for environmental education is palpable in her community organizing work. She explained how the data and resources on the JWC website can support her efforts in community organizing and education. “These are tools that I can refer people to; at a workshop or community meeting, I can say, “Go to the Jersey WaterCheck data dashboard and look for yourself.” Not everyone may do it, but some may—and some may be creative with the data, like a teacher at a school who is talking about water issues and climate change and uses our data as a reference.”
“People of color and people in low-income communities, we’re often left out of the conversation. Sometimes, it’s on purpose, and other times, it’s an oversight.” Wynnie-Fred explained that the data provided by Jersey WaterCheck connects water issues to community-level action, providing community members with the knowledge needed to understand their water and sewer systems. This can be particularly important in ensuring that especially vulnerable and marginalized communities are able to advocate for their needs. “I’m not an expert or an engineer, but I do have a lot of experience with what happens when the system falls short, when public representatives aren’t necessarily representing us as they should… Often, our representatives are beholden to industry.”
“Advocating for water is not just an agenda for us [people of color], it’s not a job description. It’s something we ourselves are experiencing…” Wynnie-Fred continued to explain the value of data for building the capacity of overworked and under-resourced community members to advocate for clean water. “[Without data,] it’s hard to know what’s going on. At one point, the former mayor of Newark tried to privatize the water, and we stopped them [with help from JWC resources].”
“It’d be great if there were more reports, and if more public representatives really did have a dialogue with the community that was a lot more honest and transparent and holistic. We need them to tell the people the truth of what’s going on, give us the resources, have the dialogue, communicate, and train us to address what’s going on.” Wynnie-Fred Victor Hinds provided a hopeful outlook for the future of water in New Jersey, which speaks to the value of JerseyWater Check’s work and data, as well as community-level grassroots organizing. “We need to go back to the community, to the people who have a voice. I know I can go back to my neighbors, my family, my colleagues, and hopefully, together, we can make a difference.”