Sugarcane burning leaves communities vulnerable to air pollution, health risks and economic stress. It’s time to forge a meaningful path to a long-overdue solution. Make this the Last Burn Season.
“When people come to Belle Glade they don’t fall in love with anything else first, but the people.” — Robert Mitchell
Robert Mitchell knows that the true soul of Belle Glade is in the people who live there. From an empty plot of land where his late grandmother once owned a beloved restaurant, Essie Mae’s Cafe, he makes a firm declaration: “We have a saying here in Belle Glade that her soil is her fortune. I’m here to tell you that her soil AND her people are her fortune.”
From all sides, Belle Glade is surrounded by the swaying stalks of sugarcane. Sugarcane that burns many months of the year, darkening the sky and raining ash down on the people, many of whom have worked in the fields or can point to relatives and ancestors who have. The striking dichotomy of the industry’s tremendous wealth against the impoverished streets and dilapidated buildings of Belle Glade is hard to ignore, and it isn’t lost on Robert.
Robert grew up in Belle Glade before leaving to further his education at Florida A&M University. He splits his time now between Belle Glade, where his family still lives, and Los Angeles, where he’s worked hard to build his own catering company. A sense of duty brings him home as often as possible, and his passion for the community is obvious as he leads us on a tour through the streets of the city that molded him, pointing out each of the places he’s called home and shouting familiar greetings at passersby from the window. As a community activist, Robert is determined to ensure a fair shake for the people living here, and a brighter future for his hometown.
“They forgot about the people … the fortune this industry has is off the backs of the people in this community … Some of the hardest working people I’ve ever seen. That’s why I want them to have better.”
Robert knows there are solutions. He’s optimistic about the option of green harvesting, which would eliminate harmful pre-harvest burning and would bring new jobs and revived energy to the area. He sees the potential for Belle Glade — for all of the Glades communities — if they could only remove the injustice of burning that is holding them back.
Watch Robert’s Story.