His childhood visits to the marsh also gave him a sense of the Southern subsistence culture his family had left behind. In the 1980s, after attending the funeral of a relative in Louisiana, Dotson felt compelled to reconnect with his rural Southern roots. So he moved to his mother’s hometown of Mossville, on the heavily industrialized banks of Lake Charles. There he worked at the Bayou Comprehensive Health Center, a nonprofit serving low-income, predominantly African-American communities.
After 13 years, Dotson returned to the Bay Area. Inspired by his indelible impressions of the South – extreme poverty, overt segregation and the disproportionate toxic burden faced by poor black communities - he enrolled at U.C. Berkeley and earned a master’s in public health administration. He worked as a program developer with Contra Costa County Health Services and volunteered with Trails for Richmond Action Committee, a local open space advocacy group.
Dotson began to clearly see the connection between the region’s public health issues – asthma, heart disease and diabetes – and its lack of open space. “Through my involvement with these groups, I became aware of plans to develop the Breuner Marsh,” he says. “So I pulled together my own plan that would preserve the marsh and give the public access to the shoreline. It also addressed health concerns by giving the community a place to walk and exercise.”