Sharing Stories of Local Leaders
The core of the Environmental Justice movement is powered by communities and local organizers. CHEJ exists because of grassroots activism, and our mission is to empower this very same community action across the country. At CHEJ, we feel incredibly lucky to have been able to work with some of the most inspiring people organizing grassroots movements to restore health to their communities. Here, we want to highlight the stories of some amazing local leaders who are raising awareness for environmental issues in their homes.
By Jessica Klees, Communications Intern Jose Franco Garcia is an activist working with the Environmental Health Coalition, a binational organization that does work in San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico. His work focuses on environmental justice that crosses borders and brings communities together. “Much like the Environmental Health Coalition, I [...]
By: Anabelle Farnham, Communications Intern Georgette Gomez grew up in the Barrio Logan area of San Diego, California, and has always been invested in helping this migrant community thrive, both through her work in grassroots organizing and, more recently, as a local representative. Gomez is first-generation Mexican American, and this [...]
Olinka Green is a fighter who wakes up every day and chooses not to be defeated. A natural born activist raised in Dallas, Texas, Green got her first organizing experience in the third grade making signs to encourage her classmates’ families to boycott canned tuna. In her high school, Green [...]
By: Simone Lewis, Communications Intern When Gillian Graber and her husband bought their home in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, she didn’t expect to become a full time activist fighting to keep her neighborhood safe from fracking. She was focused on being a stay-at-home mom, caring for her kids. This vision was [...]
By: Anabelle Farnham, Communications Intern Lee Ann Smith’s son was only 11 when he was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. In fact, finding the cancer in the first place had been almost a mistake: Gabe had gone to get an MRI so that the doctors could check [...]
By: Anabelle Farnham, Communications Intern When Darryl Malek-Wiley moved to New Orleans in 1983, the environmental justice movement was just beginning in the U.S. The Clean Air and Clean Water Acts had been passed in 1972, and pollution was not yet at the forefront of the mainstream environmental movement. Wiley [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Water You Fighting For activist, Melissa Mays, is not a stranger to standing up and speaking out. Nicknamed “Champion of the Underdog” at a young age, she always protected and helped the “little guy” succeed. She was working as a financial planner when her job [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern On April 6, 1981, 501(c)(3) paperwork was filed marking the beginning of the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). Lois Gibbs, Founder of CHEJ, remembers the role everyone played in making it the organization it is today. We all now have the “right to [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Andrea Amico is an occupational therapist who moved to New Hampshire in 2007 with her husband after he was offered a job at the Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, NH. Amico described it as a beautiful place to raise a family and a dream place [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Penny Newman, Founder of Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) was born and raised in California. Her parents taught her from a young age that you need to be involved if you want your community to be a good place to raise children. [...]
By: Leia Ku Cheng Yee, Communications Intern Phyllis Glazer is an activist featured in People Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, CNN/Time News Magazine’s Earth Day 2000 Special, NBC Dateline, and more. She was the founder of Mothers Organized to Stop Environmental Sins (MOSES), and has been fighting against toxic pollution since [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Nina Morgan is a Climate and Environmental Justice Organizer with the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) in Birmingham, Alabama. Morgan fights for communities located near heavy industry that are suffering from pollution-related illnesses like asthma and cancer. These communities have been unlawfully restricted to [...]
Northern Birmingham Still Dealing with Human Rights Issues: Living Room Leadership with Charlie Powell
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Charlie Powell, of People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination (PANIC) in Birmingham, AL shared his experience as an activist for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership series. He has been fighting to get his community relocated since 2012 from toxic facilities. Before moving to Birmingham, Powell was in [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Pam Kingfisher, an experienced community organizer and advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ rights shared her experience for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership series. Pam has over 30 years of experience in organizing and policy work, and has led the fight in shutting down 23% of the world’s [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Jerry Ensminger, a U.S Marine Corps veteran who led the fight for justice at Camp Lejeune, a military base in North Carolina where severe water contamination went unaddressed and unresolved for over 30 years, shared his experience for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership series. Raised in [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern “I’m hoping this bill can pave the way for a tidal wave of bills like this across the country.” Maria Lopez-Nuñez, Deputy Director, Organizing and Advocacy of Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) in Newark, Jersey shared her experience as one of the leaders that helped pass [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Roxanne Groff, a formidable activist with 20 years of experience as an elected official in Athens County, Ohio, shared her experience for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series. Originally from Toledo, Groff made her way to Athens, Ohio for college in 1967 where her activism began. [...]
Warehouse Development Is Trouble for Jurupa Valley: Living Room Leadership with Esther Portillo of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Esther Portillo, Interim Executive Director of the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice (CCAEJ) in Jurupa Valley, CA, shared her experience as an activist for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series. Portillo has organized and empowered communities of color across the nation and now is [...]
By: Ruth Rodriguez, Communications Intern Rebecca Jim, Founder and Executive Director of Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD) Agency, Inc, shared her experience as an activist for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series. Jim shared about her community’s fight for environmental justice of the Tar Creek area, one of the largest and [...]
In a Tea-Party Texas Town, She Wins Against Fossil Fuels: Living Room Leadership with Ranjana Bhandari of Livable Arlington
By: Leija Helling, Communications Intern When landmen first arrived in Arlington, Texas, offering royalties and signing bonuses, everyone was talking about the money. But Ranjana Bhandari saw through the propaganda and refused to sign her mineral rights away. Since this first act of resistance, Ranjana’s fight against fracking has grown [...]
By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern In an interview on Wednesday, September 30, 2020 for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series, Pamela Miller and Vi Waghiyi of Alaska Community Actions on Toxins (ACAT) shared their experience tackling toxics, protecting health and achieving justice for Alaska’s wildlife and people. The U.S. Air Force [...]
By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern In an interview on Wednesday, August 12, 2020 for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series, Hilton Kelley, Founder and Director of Community In-Power & Development Association (CIDA), shared his experience taking action against the neighboring chemical manufacturers, refineries and incinerator facilities in his hometown of Port [...]
Doing Democracy Right: Living Room Leadership with Kaniela Ing, Community Organizer and Former Hawaii State Rep.
By: Leija Helling, Communications Intern CHEJ had the pleasure of hosting Kaniela Ing, an activist, community organizer and former State Representative in Hawaii, at a Living Room Leadership webinar on August 5, 2020. A Native Hawaiian, Kaniela was first elected to represent South Maui in the Hawaii State House 2012 [...]
Tackling TCE Pollution in Tucson: Living Room Leadership with Linda Robles of the Environmental Justice Task Force
By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern In an interview on Wednesday, July 15, 2020 for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series, Linda Robles, founder of the Tucson Environmental Justice Task Force, shared her experience battling TCE contamination in her neighborhood. Since the 1940s, military installations in Tucson, AZ have been using and [...]
By: Leija Helling, Communications Intern In August of 2017, shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit, Jackie Young Medcalf parked her car outside of the San Jacinto River Waste Pits in Houston, Texas, waiting for EPA administrator Scott Pruitt to finish a damage survey. The security guard wouldn’t let the young activist [...]
Pushing Back Against Polluters: Living Room Leadership with Tom Kilian of Citizens for a Clean Wausau
By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern In an interview on Wednesday, July 29, 2020 for CHEJ’s Living Room Leadership Series, Tom Kilian of Citizens for a Clean Wausau shared his experience monitoring local polluters in Wausau, Wisconsin and bringing environmental justice to his community. Citizens for a Clean Wausau is an [...]
By: Leija Helling, Communications Intern This summer, community organizers in Birmingham, Alabama, coordinated a series of caravan protests calling for racial and environmental justice at the 35th Avenue Superfund site in North Birmingham. Communities living in and around the 35th Avenue site are facing decades of unabated industrial pollution, and [...]
By: Kayleigh Coughlin, Communications Intern St. Louis, Missouri families are feeling hopeful following the commencement of the EPA’s long-awaited clean-up at the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site at Bridgeton. Dawn Chapman and Karen Nickel, community activists and co-founders of Just Moms STL, a non-profit organization aiming to educate the St. [...]
Lou Zeller and the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League: Six Years of Hard Work and A Massive Victory over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
By: Julie Silverman, Communications Intern Since 2014, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) began campaigning to counteract the planning and construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. After six long years of dedicated work, BREDL and its partner organizations succeeded on July 5th, 2020 in cancelling the construction of the [...]
By: Jenna Clark, Communications Intern Karen and Dawn will tell you that they are “just moms,” but you shouldn’t believe them. In their community of West Lake, Missouri, these two moms have led the battle against nearby nuclear waste. For 8 years, they have diligently organized community members, educated local officials, spearheaded investigations into toxic waste mere miles from their homes, called EPA administrators day in and day out, and ultimately achieved their [...]
You’re sitting on the front porch of your isolated mountain house. You rock back and forth as you take in the vastness of the open fields in front of you. In the distance you examine the silhouettes of the mountains that hug you on all sides. The only sounds you [...]
Ohio is home to some of the nation’s most natural lands, with acres of beautiful forests, countless national parks and glistening water systems. It is a well sought after spot for a natural getaway. On the other hand, it is also a well sought after spot for industry that has [...]
Emma Lockridge // Photo sourced by OurFuture Emma Lockridge, an environmental justice organizer for Michigan United, began her fight against the Marathon Petroleum Corporation nearly 6 years ago. From the observation of her mother's house, only a few blocks from the facility, Emma noticed a thick blanket of pollution [...]
Ginger Juel, Twin Ports Action Alliance (TPAA), Duluth, MN
On April 26th, 2018, a massive plume of black smoke exploded into the sky above Superior, Wisconsin. When Ginger Juel saw the ominous black cloud from her Duluth, Minnesota home across the water, and she immediately knew that something was wrong. However, when she turned on the news to see what was going on, there were no reports of any black smoke. Being a lifetime Twin Ports (Duluth, MN and Superior, WI) resident, she was especially concerned because she knew the smoke was billowing from Husky Refinery, and she knew that all five K-12 schools in Superior were located within 1-2 miles of the refinery. So when the news failed to provide any information on the potential disaster, Juel turned to social media. As she began to comb through tweets about the area, she noticed that there was a Facebook live stream of the plume, warning people it was coming from the refinery.
Nick Teti, Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA), Coshocton, OH
When Nick Teti and a group of friends founded Coshocton Environmental and Community Awareness (CECA), they did so because they were thinking differently from the people around them. They wanted to bring environmental justice, green thinking and health information to Coshocton County, Ohio since the Iraq war, and in 2013 they decided that forming a nonprofit would be the best way to get their message across. The only dilemma was that in 2013, Coschocton County wasn’t ready to be thinking about environmental reforms. Most people there were too caught up in their daily lives to engage with an environmental movement, like what play they wanted go see at the town recreation center that evening, or whether their friends would be available for a picnic in Coshocton Lake Park the following Sunday.
Charlie Powell, People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination (PANIC), Birmingham, AL
If toxic air was causing your friends and family to get sick and die from cancer, what would you do? This is the terrifying reality Charlie Powell and other Birmingham activists have grappled with since 2009, when it became clear that toxic air in Northern Birmingham was making residents sick. The toxicity isn’t equal for the whole city, however: it is concentrated in four neighborhoods in Northern Birmingham: Harriman Park, Fairmont, Collegeville and North Birmingham. All four of these neighborhoods surround the ERP Coke plant, which produces high grade coke for industrial furnaces. Coke production is notoriously dirty, and the emissions produced are dangerous to inhale: it’s created by essentially baking coal. If a facility doesn’t have proper scrubbers and air purification technologies installed, exposure to emissions can result in cancer.
Learn about CHEJ’s history post our beginning as a grassroots activist group with Lois Gibbs and Love Canal.
Lois Gibbs was once a grassroots activist herself— listen as she describes her journey from mother to environmentalist and the mother of Superfund.