Environmental justice demands more


Tina Johnson


Environmental justice is not a single-issue movement – it is impossible for it to be, due to the multiple environmental, social, racial and economic, climate and health issues faced by and in the Black community. This lies at the core of the National Black Environmental Justice Network’s (NBEJN) platform, which was announced recently. Our platform represents the depth and complexities of the work that our community organisations and members are engaged in.

environmental justice

Photo courtesy of NBEJN.

NBEJN stands strong on the Principles of Environmental Justice that strengthen coalitions, alliances and collaborations, and the commitment to fight on multiple fronts to eradicate underlying conditions that create and perpetuate disparities and vulnerability and to dismantle systemic racism. Our work focuses on seven issue areas: environmental justice, climate justice, economic justice, education justice, racial and social justice, health justice and international solidarity.

Environmental justice

The crux of environmental justice is that all people and communities have the right to equal environmental protection under the law, and the right to live work and play in communities that are safe, healthy and free of life threatening conditions. Our platform and action plans are built around data-driven solutions using an equity and justice lens to address and to develop policy approaches. But most importantly our work is rooted in the grassroots organising that is done at the community-level.

Our work has a two-pronged approach: campaign-advocacy and policy. This approach is one of the best ways to engage communities and community leaders on the ground, while also increasing capacity and resource access that have greater potential to develop real solutions that bring about effective change. Our organising strategy encourages active participation by individuals and organisations across spatial location (urban, suburban, and rural), disciplines, economic strata, and generations with the goal of promoting a healthy, just, and sustainable future.

Equitable and just funding

‘Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples’, reads the fifth principle of environmental justice.

In order to do this work, NBEJN must be funded equitably and justly by philanthropy. Historically, Black-lead organisations (BLO) have struggled to receive funding, and if funding is received it is often times too little or too much required reporting time for what is given. As the United States is in the process of reckoning with the effect and demands to end systemic racism, so too must the philanthropy community be engaged.

Currently NBEJN is navigating the ‘Philanthropic Redlining’ or the ‘Philanthropic Black Codes’ that are consistent roadblocks that BLO face. NBEJN is seeking multi-year funding, general operating support, capacity building support coupled with programme funding to support existing community-designed strategies and build the influence and impact of the network. This is what most white-lead organisations receive from the philanthropy community.

We have been invited to give presentations on our network, to have Zoom chats on our work, and have responded to numerous inquiries that have not translated in funding. The philanthropy relationship has to be one that is engaged in ‘transformational work’ and this is done by not creating a transactional relationship.

NBEJN is working to make its presence known so that the philanthropy community cannot say it was unaware of its existence and therefore give funding to white-lead organisations who have environmental justice ‘programmes’ or ‘projects’ but that are not environmental justice organisations.

A truth that I and others understand, philanthropy is more comfortable supporting white-led efforts. Equity and justice in funding must start getting comfortable with BLO and work to engage and to assist in the sustainable development of BLO.

Racial equity and justice in philanthropy is essential in dismantling systematic racism. And it is clear that depending on where the money is placed will determine the effectiveness of BLO to lead in ending systemic racism. In order for NBEJN to be successful, effective, influential and to have longevity we need the philanthropy community to lean in and to get comfortable with being partners with us.

For more information on the work of NBEJN, visit nbejn.com.

Tina Johnson is Principle at Johnson Strategy and Development and Director at the National Black Environmental Justice Network.

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