Honoring MLK, Jr. through Water.

MLK circa 1965 Courtesy of Malcolm Lauredo/Hampton House / colorized by Dayana Ibara

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” But he knew as much as any that while nature looses water, humanity binds it. We commodify it, channel it, and decide who can have access to it. A bit too much like justice.

The top two points of HarborLAB’s mission statement are:

  1. To foster estuary and NYC watershed-themed ecological and natural science education, especially for underprivileged NYC youth and underrepresented community members.
  2. To foster estuary ecological restoration and NYC watershed conservation as a justly shared legacy.

Systemic racism for generations kept African Americans away from public pools and beaches and made many private options financially unattainable. New York City is no exception. HarborLAB volunteers are working to help restore a venerable cultural legacy from which the whole world has benefited. The second oldest discovered boat in the world is the 8,500-year old Dufuna, Nigeria canoe, predated by about 2,000 years by only one dugout canoe unearthed in Pesse, Netherlands. Maritime archeologists have determined that the Dufuna canoe’s sophistication indicates a boatbuilding tradition that reaches much deeper into ancient prehistory than is likely for Europeans. The Dutch boat was preserved by hypoxic peat, which are common to Northern Europe, while very few wooden structures last very long in tropical Africa.

While HarborLAB focuses on environmental STEM education using kayaks and canoes, just the act of actively welcoming diverse communities to paddle is an action against racist structures. Being on the water quickly feels natural, and participants understand that they can return to the water with HarborLAB, on their own, or with others because the water belongs to them. This goes for the estuary and reservoir system alike at a time when disparities in sewage processing and drinking water infrastructure make for deathly headlines. Our boat choices, public programs, and “Partner Paddles” with NYCHA resident groups, public schools, organizations with community pools, and CUNY all aim to reduce barriers to entry. We’re even exploring ways to celebrate natural hair styles that make participation easier.

We welcome your suggestions as to how we might be of even greater service to all. Please email us at volunteer@harborlab.org.