Environmental Justice Workgroup Seeks to Create Safe Spaces to Address Racial Injustice

“What I am asking is for your willingness to see a part of yourself when you see me.”  - Dr. Erica Holloman. 


It’s a plea that pierced my heart.  Dr. Holloman is an environmental scientist and mother of three. She is someone I admire and view as an invaluable partner.  But she made me realize I never see her when I look in the mirror. 

Through our Environmental Justice Workgroup, the Choose Clean Water Coalition is challenging us to address today’s racial justice and civil rights issues, which are a result of centuries of structural and institutional racism and bias.  Our call last week when Dr. Holloman called on us to truly see each other centered on what our community, clean water advocates, can do to address the recent police shootings.  We talked about creating safe space in our offices for discussions and actions in the field that can contribute to addressing these injustices.  It was honest, raw, and insightful.

It is imperative that environmentalists take part in the fight against racial discrimination and injustice.  Many of us are engaged in efforts to diversify the environmental movement and advocate for environmental justice legislation, because we know that communities of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of environmental pollution.  The bigger challenge for many of us as part of a mostly white, mostly upper middle class movement, is to see ourselves in the victims of police shootings and racial discrimination. 

Wangari Maathai, the prophetic Kenyan environmental and human rights advocate, said “In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace.”  It’s these connections, these similarities between our social movements to save people and to save the environment that must become stronger. 

As temperatures and tempers rise in this increasingly divided nation, we can and must see each other in our shared goals for the planet and the people living on it, not in the phenotypic differences that have artificially divided us. We can and must build an inclusive movement; one that values equity and democracy for all.   

Rebecca Rehr is the Public Health Advocacy Coordinator at the Maryland Environmental Health Network