Signs of change

photo of small light purple flowers emerging from soil in spring

This time of transition between winter and spring is always enthralling for me, and this year I feel even more attuned to the signs of change than usual.  I think this eagerness comes from my impatience for change. I am ready to be back in person after years of pandemic separation. I am ready to know what comes next in so many parts of my personal and family life that are in flux. And I am ready to see what more Environmental Initiative can do to support environmental and racial justice after many years of letting go, dismantling, and building capacity.

This organization is now guided by a vision of a more inclusive, just, and thriving world – enabled by deep relationships with individuals, communities, public and private sector partners, and among our staff and board. We see our work as bridging perspectives, power, and systems for environmental health and social equity. We have done a lot of work to make these shifts possible, and we still have a lot more of that work ahead of us. We have not yet put the culture of white supremacy behind us. This culture takes many forms including the racial and cultural diversity of our staff and pace of our work. We are not there yet, but we are in the messy middle of the shifts required to become the organization we envision.

I see signs of spring amid those transitions, specifically investments in environmental and racial justice.

  • We continue to partner with the Northside Environmental Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC), including partnering for a grant from the Minneapolis Foundation and continuing work supported by the City of Minneapolis, each of which enable and help fund the efforts of African American EJCC fellows within their communities.
  • We are supporting the Public Policy Project in establishing a St. Paul Eastside EJCC, funded by the Bigelow Foundation, 3M, Ramsey and Washington counties, and funds from Environmental Initiative’s cash reserves.
  • We have recruited and are staffing the first cohort of Northside Safety NET environmental justice interns, which provides opportunities for Northside Minneapolis youth of color to explore the world of green jobs and to deepen their engagement with environmental justice.
  • We are actively integrating justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) into many of our existing partnerships, including Clean Air Minnesota, the Sustainable Growth Coalition, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, and the Source Water Protection Collaborative. Our Insights and Impact Forums reimagine our Policy Forum Series, including an increased focus on the voices of BIPOC leaders.
  • Our board of directors is now 45% BIPOC. The board has released funds from our cash reserves to directly support the work of BIPOC leaders and partners, including support for the EJCC cohorts and the development of a Center for Transformative Urban Design.
  • Our Pathways Program is our first paid internship program and is specifically focused on creating positions for BIPOC individuals and individuals whose identities have been marginalized. We have had two individuals funded through this program so far, one of whom now has moved into a full-time, staff position.
  • We posted a position for a partnership manager, a new position at our organization, which will play a key role with our Sustainable Growth Coalition and Clean Air Minnesota. Our aim is to hire an individual into this role who comes with existing relationships and experience in BIPOC communities. Furthermore, we know that we must increase the number of BIPOC members of our staff, and we see this and future positions as opportunities to do so. Based on the experiences of previous hiring processes, we sought feedback from BIPOC partners and have expanded and improved our recruitment efforts as a result.
  • We are increasingly engaging with partnerships that are external to Environmental Initiative and that extend our impact and our reach, especially related to our JEDI goals. This includes participating in and helping to fund a Collaborative Pathways program that will create a network of interconnected paid internship programs focusing on BIPOC individuals among mainstream environmental organizations. We are also participating in the Lottery Reauthorization Coalition, where our staff convene the JEDI focused subgroup, and have been supporting the establishment of a Minnesota chapter of the American Association for Blacks in Energy.
  • We have been working with Team Dynamics, a consulting group dedicated to building more just and inclusive work cultures, and with a steering committee of staff to build trust and cultivate wholeness inside the organization. We know that our internal culture needs to model the just and inclusive world we hope to help create, and this work supports that aim.

I am grateful for the supporters of Environmental Initiative, and I value everything you do to encourage us to step fully into our work for environmental and racial justice. In a world that often feels frozen in a permanent winter, you are helping usher in a springtime of renewal and rebirth.