July 2015 Newsletter

Summer has arrived at EJLRI!

Get to know our new staff members!

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Steve Roberts, Jennifer Rossi, and Jesus Holguin

In early 2015, EJLRI underwent a significant staff transition after bidding farewell to its two amazing Co-Directors and welcoming three new staff members onboard to carry the organization’s mission forward. Our new staff bring a diversity of experiences and passions to EJLRI.  Check them out here:

Steve Roberts: Organizing Director

Steve Roberts joined EJLRI as Organizing Director. Steve is a native of New Haven, Connecticut but has spent the past 6 years in Providence making connections with people and learning how things like racism, sexism, and classism affect us all. He attended Rhode Island College (RIC), graduating in 2014 with a bachelors in Communication. At RIC, he was a four year member of the men’s basketball team and an active participant in the Black student organization, Harambee. Steve’s first organizing experience came from organizing a National Moment of Silence rally in Providence. The purpose of the rally was to honor victims of police brutality and state sanctioned violence. Using social media as the primary outlet, Steve was able to coordinate the event which drew around 250 people. Soon after, he joined End Police Brutality PVD. Steve’s social justice concentrations include anti-criminalization, food justice, and the right to public space. In his free time, Steve enjoys cooking, skateboarding and reading.

Jennifer Rossi: Development and Communications Director

Jennifer Rossi joined EJLRI as Development and Communications Director. Jen has worked with the RI non-profit sector over the past 12 years, specifically focusing on youth development, community collaboration, grants management, and strategic planning. For eight years she served as the Associate Director for Youth In Action, a youth-driven non-profit focused on health and social justice. After leaving Youth In Action she became Director of Strategic Initiatives for the United Way of RI, directing the allocation of grant funding to RI based non-profits. Jen has also been a birth doula for the past five years and is a co-founder of The Doula Collective – RI’s only community-based, no-cost doula program. She is interested in bridging the gaps between environmental, gender, and reproductive justice and is excited to bring this lens to EJLRI. Jen is also a mother of two children and enjoys running and spending time outside.

Jesus Holguin: Youth Leadership Director

Jesus Holguin joined EJLRI as Youth Leadership Director. He is responsible for the oversight of all EJLRI youth programming. Jesus became involved with EJLRI when he was a sophomore in high school over six years ago. As a former EJLRI youth organizer, Jesus spearheaded the youth program now known as ECO Youth – EJLRI’s core youth leadership and organizing program. Through his work he was selected to attend the National Youth Organizer Training Institute led by SOUL in Oakland California. Recently, he was also selected to be part of a national group called Beyond the November Movement, also known as Black Youth Project 100. His main areas of activism are around issues of environmental and food justice, LGBT rights, and immigration. Jesus also serves as a board member of YPI: Youth Pride Inc. and also works as an Administrative Assistant at the Juanita Sanchez Educational Complex after-school program.


EJ League and community partners awarded
Health Equality Zone funding

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It is well-documented both nationally and in Rhode Island that the most resource poor and politically marginalized communities suffer disproportionate health and environmental burdens due to their concentration in urban areas where, for example, the air quality is worse, access to healthy foods is more limited, there is less green space and recreational opportunities, and houses are older and often not well maintained. Approximately $2.15 million of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding is awarded to the Rhode Island Department of Health each year to fund local governments and non-profit organizations statewide that combat these issues. These awards are allotted to support innovative approaches to preventing chronic diseases, improving birth outcomes, and improving the social and environmental conditions of our neighborhoods.

With the support of this federal funding, The Rhode Island Department of Health began a statewide “Health Equity Zones” (HEZ) initiative in April 2015. A HEZ is a defined community and/or geographic area with high rates of obesity, illness, injury, chronic disease, or other adverse health outcomes. Funding was awarded locally to 11 different community collaboratives to address the social determinants of health across the HEZ network and to track improvements in health and social environments resulting from their work. EJLRI couldn’t be more excited to have been chosen as lead organization for the Communities Organizing for Health Equity in Providence (COHEP) collaborative, a group of social justice organizations and programs that will work together in the lower Elmwood, Washington Park, and Reservoir neighborhoods! COHEP’s core partners include EJLRI, Providence Youth Student Movement (PrYSM), Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), and the Doula Collective.

As community organizers, we know that the root causes of health inequities often include institutionalized racism, sexism and gentrification. Building upon decades of successful change work, COHEP organizations will address a variety of social determinants to health, including housing and tenant rights, criminalization and racial profiling, LGBTQ rights, environmental toxins and pollution, access to healthy food, lead poisoning and housing conditions, and pre- and postnatal care. Rather than a traditional direct service approach that enters into a community from the outside to provide a service, COHEP agencies work hand-in-hand with community members to define issues, create common agendas, and develop solutions. Its membership mobilizes the leadership of community members, in order to facilitate systemic change and health equity.

We are thrilled to have been awarded $155,000 of funding from the RI Department of Health this year to approach environmental, reproductive, and social justice work through a health equity lens. Stay tuned for exciting updates on this work as we move forward!


Community Environmental College to start July 7th!

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On July 7th, EJLRI will kick off its flagship summer program: Community Environmental College (CEC). Each year, CEC engages around 30 students, primarily youth of color ages 13-19, from RI’s core urban communities. Students explore, learn about, and analyze such issues as food deserts, environmental toxins, racism, and the history of local, national and global environmental justice movements. Local partner organizations, including Movement Ground Farm and English for Action, also provide students with internship and field trip opportunities where they can apply newly learned change strategies and gain hands-on experiences.

Now entering its sixth year, the CEC has created a community of dedicated young people deeply invested in environmental justice work, with a high rate of former graduates who return to the program in leadership capacities. Former CEC graduates return as “graduate students” who receive professional development training, get involved in EJLRI’s community projects, and are placed in internships with community partners. CEC graduates are also hired and trained as Teaching Assistants (TAs) and then as Teachers in following years. Each year, incoming students learn about a range of pressing local and global environmental issues, and then apply their newfound knowledge and skills by designing action projects that they develop and present upon graduation.

Check out our flier for more details!

“Being able to participate in the CEC last summer was a very positive and eye-opening experience. It was a great way to spend my summer. I was able to learn a multitude of things pertaining to social issues in America and how we, as the next generation, have the power to make positive changes to the current system.”
– Sebastian Cardenas, CEC 2014 Student


EJ League staff present at Northeastern Conference

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On May 21-22, 2015, the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute (SSEHRI), in partnership with the Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) and Silent Spring Institute hosted the first ever Social Science-Environmental Health Interdisciplinary Collaborations Conference at Northeastern University. This two-day conference brought together approximately 100 scholars, government agency professionals, community organizers, and students for panels, discussions, and workshops at the intersection of social science and environmental health.

EJLRI presented alongside Staci Rubin from Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) and Penn Loh from Tufts University on environmental justice organizations as collaborators. EJ League staff spoke about the organization’s history with academia and government and the strengths and challenges inherent in those relationships. With discussions ranging from the 2010 BP Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to unconventional oil and gas extraction in Wyoming and Colorado to preterm birth in Puerto Rico, the conference provided a rare opportunity for scholars, advocates, and researchers to come together to foster collaboration and gain insights from one another in order to better address environmental health and justice issues. Check out our Prezi here!


 

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In solidarity, peace and love.