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Rooted (Restoring Our Own Truth (Through) Education & Demonstration)

Willington, South Carolina

Featured image for the project, Rooted (Restoring Our Own Truth (Through) Education & Demonstration)

This project aims to assess the possible environmental impacts of a historically segregated school site in Willington, South Carolina that was recently purchased and is in the process of being restored by a local black-led nonprofit, Organized Uplifting Resources & Strategies (OURS), in the rural community. The non-profit installed a farm to give the community, which sits in a food desert, access to fresh fruits and vegetables while creating local economic development opportunities. We are in need of a scientist to perform soil sampling, air quality monitoring, hazardous materials monitoring, and water sampling onsite prior to beginning the restoration of the school. By assessing the environmental impacts of the school, we will be able to fully grasp the needs through this feasibility study to restore this structure for community use. As a result of this project, we will know what is needed environmentally to support the restoration.


The Community

The population of Willington, SC (McCormick County), is about 86% black. Willington is a rural community in a food desert with very little economic development opportunity. There are no local stores and very little black business ownership in this community. Approximately 200 people live in the local community.

The goal of this project is to restore the local school for community use and create jobs to support the local economy. When the school closed in the 1990’s, the community petitioned for the school to remain open, but the petition was unsuccessful. The school has remained closed and the local grassroots nonprofit, Organized Uplifting Resources & Strategies (OURS), purchased it to restore it for the community.

The Project

The community would like to restore the local school for community use and create jobs to support the local economy.

We have been engaging in community listening sessions to get community interest and input for school restoration projects.

The project involves local nonprofits, including OURS, grassroot organizations, and local community members.

The key stakeholders are Commissioner ErNiko Brown, who purchased the historically segregated school and 7.5 acres of land from McCormick County and the local Willington community. We are looking to inspire other black rural communities in the south similar to the makeup of Willington, SC.

We want to make the land usable for farming; and create a blueprint for sustainable living in rural communities that are food deserts. The community will benefit from this project by having a facility for community use and access to fresh fruits and vegetables locally. The community is a food desert; through this outcome we will be able to produce food locally and create a local economy that will greatly impact the local community.  These practices can create a major stride in the climate justice movement by creating sustainable green infrastructure that builds local economic development for black rural communities that are food deserts.

Project Team

Community Lead

Commissioner ErNiko Brown, Founder and CEO of Organized Uplifting Resources & Strategies (OURS). Through her organization OURS, she started the Grandma Rosie Scholarship to support Black students attending the South Carolina Governor’s School of Agriculture at John De la Howe in McCormick, SC. She is also a Conservation District Commissioner, in McCormick, where she ran her own write-in campaign less than 2 weeks out from Election Day 2020 making her the 1st black female Commissioner in its 80 plus year history. She is also the Environmental Justice & Disaster Management Executive Chair for the SC NAACP State Conference.

With her strong commitment to community, Commissioner Brown has emerged as an effective leader dedicated to changing the narrative of environmental justice for rural communities and is starting with her own. On Juneteenth 2023, she closed on Willington School #3, a historically segregated school in her community that will be the future home and headquarters for OURS. She recognizes that the holistic health and well-being of people in communities starts with their foundation, including access to healthy food systems, affordable housing, good paying jobs in their community, affordable healthcare, & breathable clean air. She was recently recognized for her work in advancing climate, clean energy, and environmental justice initiatives by Environmental Defense Fund Action.

Community Science Fellow

Dr. Agnes Conaty

Dr. Agnes Pasco Conaty, PhD is a Senior Research Scientist and Science Lead at the NASA GLOBE Observer Program, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. She is a NASA Contractor with the Science Systems & Applications, Inc. (SSAI). She is also a college mathematics and environmental science professor at Marymount University, Montgomery College, Howard Community College, and Trinity Washington University. She has a doctorate degree in Environmental Science, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of the Philippines. She has a Certificate in Secondary Teaching (Physics) from the American University. She writes a column “The Laurel Inner Space” and draws a cartoon “Laurel Squirrel” for The Laurel Independent newspaper.

Community Scientist

Samuel Bamidele

Samuel Bamidele is a soil scientist at KerTec LLC in Lubbock, TX, specializing in the design and implementation of native ecological restoration and post-construction reclamation activities. Prior to working with KerTec LLC, he served as a Soil Health Sampling Specialist with the Soil Health Institute on the U.S. Regenerative Cotton project, collaborating with growers in Alabama and Mississippi to collect soil samples and metadata in the field. Samuel actively fostered relationships with cotton farmers, local experts, and state officials to promote the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices. Also, Samuel gained experience as a farm manager and quality control analyst at Reynolds Construction Company in Nigeria. He holds a B. Agric in Soil Science and Land Management from the Federal University of Agriculture, Nigeria, and an M.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Delaware. His graduate research focused on investigating the impact of water and residue management on soil health indicators in rice paddies.