“This Is Our Health. This Is Our Life.” Women of Color Climate Justice Leaders Speak Their Truth

A light-skinned person holds up a sign that reads

Environmental justice demands democratic, community-based solutions where communities of color are at the center of decision-making. By building the capacity of environmental justice organizations, ensuring the equitable distribution of resources, and elevating the voice, vision, and leadership of those activists and organizers most impacted by environmental injustices, we can address the root causes of inequities and climate change while supporting solutions with the greatest chance of seeing us through to a new era of social justice and climate security.

With this important framework in mind, the Women’s Environmental Leadership Fund (WE LEAD), a Tides Foundation grantmaking initiative, participated in a dynamic discussion last month at bigBANG! 2021 with women of color climate justice leaders. The distinguished panel included WE LEAD grantees Marsha Jackson, co-chair of Southern Sector Rising, and Bridgette Murray, founder of Achieving Community Tasks Successfully (ACTS). The panel also included Elizabeth Wang, a technology attorney and member of the Donors of Color Network.

Watch these leaders describe their fight for justice in their communities and how their work is helping address the climate crisis. This session is moderated by Tides’ Leena Barakat and Peter Martin.

“This is our health. This is our life. I’m 63 years old. I want to continue to grow and see my grandchildren grow. And not for my health to continue to deteriorate because of something another man put next to us. This is just unspoken. It should never happen.”Marsha Jackson, Southern Sector Rising 

Marsha Jackson, an environmental activist and recipient of the 2019 Sierra Club Environmentalist Award, is the co-chair of Southern Sector Rising, which seeks to address health inequity in Dallas by ending decades of racist zoning and by more evenly distributing pollution burdens. Jackson is a dedicated community organizer and environmental leader, and is a recipient of SMU 55th Symposium Women in Profiles Award, the 2020 Juanita Craft Humanitarian Award, and the 2020 Green Source DFW Leadership Environmental Award. In addition to her organizing work, she is a Downwinders At-Risk Board member, a Juanita Craft House Civil Rights Museum Board member, and a Red Cross Disaster Team Member/Sheltering/Disaster Recovery Operations advisor. Jackson is also a member of the NAACP, Women in Transit (WTS), and Friendship-West Baptist Church Social Justice.

“At a personal level, you find that you are willing to do more because you are not only helping your neighbors, your friends, your relatives, but you’re also helping yourself. That’s very important in how we engage and how we approach the work that we’re doing.”Bridgette Murray, Achieving Community Tasks Successfully 

Bridgette Murray established the nonprofit organization Achieving Community Tasks Successfully in 2012 to support community activities in the areas of social and environmental justice. ACTS established the first Texas community-led air monitoring network in 2019, hosting seven low-cost air monitors. As a community-based organization, ACTS works with the local schools establishing urban gardens and providing support for robotics and drone education.  Its work is supported through the application of citizen science to engage the community to be part of the solution, and it uses data to support change.

“The reasons why BIPOC women-led climate justice organizations are underfunded, no matter how innovative, no matter how effective, are the usual reasons. The leaders are not where the funders are looking. They may not be vouched for by the ‘right people’ and their organizations might not have the resources to put together the right grant applications or to pull together the data for compelling applications. That leads directly to the [Donors of Color] Climate Funders Justice Pledge. Our goal is to shift the center of gravity in climate funding toward equity.” Elizabeth Wang, Donors of Color Network

Elizabeth Wang, a technology attorney and adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, is active in the Donors of Color Network and its Climate Justice Working Group. Wang serves as board director of the New York Women’s Foundation, an organization with a mission to create an equitable and just future for all women and girls. She is a mediator and restorative justice practitioner who is deeply committed to supporting healing from systemic and intergenerational harms.

Learn more about the Women’s Environmental Leadership Fund (WE LEAD)

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