CROWNING WOMEN: HONORING WOMEN IN THE
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT
Charon Asetoyer (Comanche), a Native American women's health advocate and community activist, is currently the Executive Director and Founder of the Native American Community Board (1985) and the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center (1998) on the Yankton Sioux Reservation. She has been the leading pathfinder for the community's improved health and well-being, providing health information, referral services and a resource center on education, reproductive health, economic development, land and water rights. Ms. Asetoyer established the Native American Women's Health Education Resource Center, brick by brick, the first organization of its kind located on a reservation in the United States. The organization operated successfully, engineering and dispensing many programs with a well-guarded fiscal accountability. Prior to founding the Resource Center, Ms. Asetoyer developed a Native American Health Education Project for the American Friends Service Committee, and worked to improve community health in San Francisco, through the Urban Indian Health Clinic. She was recently nominated by the Kellogg Foundation, and thereby appointed and confirmed by the President of the United States to serve on the National Advisory Council for Health and Human Services (HHS). Ms. Asetoyer is well-known as a public and private servant of Indigenous people on both local and national levels.She accepted to serve on the Board of Directors of the Indigenous Women's Network, the board of Directors for the Honor the Earth Campaign, and the Native American Community Board. Ms. Asetoyer has served on the National Minority AIDS Council, Washington, D.C., as a National Advisory Committee Member ,and Action for Corporate Accountability, New Haven, CT. She served as an advisory committee member for the Center for Constitutional Rights, Women and People of Color (The AIDS Project, NY), and as an Advisory Committee Member for the Center for Women's Policy Studies (Women and AIDS) Project. She also served on The National Women's Health Network Board of Directors for eight years. Among many awards she received The Gloria Steinem, "Woman Of Vision Award," by the Ms Foundation, and she received the United Nations Distinguished Services Award as well. In 2001, she received the "Jessie Bernard Wise Women's Award" by the Center for Women Policy Studies. She has presented many workshops, attended numerous conferences, and written prolifically in the environmental justice field.
Rose Augustine has been an environmental justice leader and health advocate since 1981 when trichloroethylene (TCE) was discovered in the groundwater of her community. She helped found Tucsonians for a Clean Environment (TCE) in 1985 when her south side neighborhood was designated as a Federal Superfund Site. She is also a founding member of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice (SNEEJ). As co-chair of the Southwest Network cross border organizing efforts on the EPA Accountability campaign, she helped organize and educate citizens in various communities in the US and Mexico on environmental justice issues. As part of the Network's EPA Accountability campaign, she also helped organize several community toxic tours with the EPA, ATSDR, other agencies and groups. Her work includes organizing the Latino merchants in the Tucson Superfund Area, and their employees, in a victorious fight against a federal government project that would have had a severe economic impact on both the merchants and the community. She is presently working with the Southwest Network, the Just Transition Alliance (JTA), and the Paper Allied-Industrial Chemical and Energy (PACE) union local 8-0296 in Rillito, Arizona. Her organizing efforts have succeeded in forming an alliance between the residents of Rillito and PACE workers at the Arizona Portland Cement (APC) Plant. Ms. Augustine is the recipient of numerous awards for activist leadership in securing environmental justice. Recognition for her work on environmental justice issues has also been featured in numerous magazines and newspapers.
Dolly Burwell (African American) organized the citizens of Warren County, NC around the issue of PCB dumping. Her efforts catalyzed the EJ movement. For the past 20 years, Dolly has worked to clean up the toxic wastes and to create a healthy, sustainable community for the largely African-American population in Warren, County. She has been tireless and consistent in her efforts to promote environmental justice, and is a model for ALL women in this, and other movements for social change.
Faye Bush (African American) is a native of Martin, Georgia and is considered one of the South's most dedicated and committed civil rights activists of this day. In 1990, Ms. Bush and other women of the Florist Club went up and down the rambling streets of Gainesville, Georgia, knocking on doors with their homemade community health survey. The results documented extraordinary rates of cancer and lupus, an auto-immune disease often leading to death from kidney and heart failure. After the nearly all-white Gainesville City Commission ignored the shocking statistics, Mrs. Bush began organizing the neighborhood to demand action by the State. Finally, the Georgia Department of Human Resources did a formal study that confirmed the Florist Club results. They found that 75 percent of all the chemical emissions in Hall County are in this one neighborhood. The Newtown Florist Club hung black ribbons on the mailboxes of people who had died and conducted "toxic tours" for media, politicians and environmentalists. The community-in-mourning effect was striking, and Newtown began to get publicity and pledges of congressional support. As Executive Director, she has led the Newtown Florist Club in the publishing of The Newtown Story: One Community's Fight Against Environmental Justice. Mrs. Bush is recipient of numerous honors and awards, notably the Liberty Bell Award given by the Northeast Georgia Bar Association.
Mayor Emma R. Gresham (African American), is the Mayor of Keysville, Georgia. The town was incorporated in 1890. When white politicians disassembled the city's government in 1933, the black residents, comprising seventy percent of the community were stripped of their right to vote. In 1988, as the result of the first Municipal Election to be held in fifty-five years, Emma Gresham was elected Mayor and has been Mayor for thirteen years. Mayor Gresham is the second African American female to be a chief elected official in Georgia. She has achieved basic services for her community including indoor plumbing, which most of the residents did not have, sanitation pick up, a library, fire protection, a health clinic, playground, streets named, city lights, the participating Certified Literacy Program, and a sewage grant. Mayor Gresham was an Essence Awards Honoree in New York City at Radio City Music Hall. When Essence celebrated their thirtieth (30th) Anniversary. Their theme was A Cause to Celebrate: Building A Better World. In September 2000, Mayor Gresham was one of the One Hundred Eckerd Women honored by the Eckerd Organization in Washington, DC for women with above excellent volunteer records in the U.S.
Hazel Johnson (African American), in October 1982, founded People for Community Recovery (PCR) located on the Southside of Chicago. PCR is one of the oldest African American grassroots community-based environmental organizations in the Midwest. Her story has been told on every major network. She has appeared on NPR several times. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Emerge, Ebony, and Essence. In addition to bringing awareness about the polluting facilities that surrounded her community, Ms. Johnson spearheaded a campaign to remove asbestos contained insulation from the hot water pipes in her community and the local schools. Not only did Ms. Johnson learn that there were environmental hazards right in her community, she discovered that the majority of hazardous operations and substances were located in poor communities and were not receiving the proper information to protect their families from hazardous substances. This is when she decided that she would fight to learn the true extent of contamination in her own backyard. From her discovery, she learned that her community had higher concentrations of lead poisoning hazards than any other public housing development in the city. Ms. Johnson organized and developed a lead awareness project and trained thirteen residents with the assistance of the Chicago Legal Clinic (CLC) to address this issue in public housing. The trained residents canvassed the community to find out how much of an environmental lead hazard the community was being exposed to. As a result, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) agreed to a series of lead reforms, inclusive of notifying nineteen public housing developments of the potential of lead poisoning problems in public housing, establishing an Environmental Unit, and hiring PCR to implement the Resident Education About Lead (REAL) Program. Hazel Johnson continues to inspire hundreds of grassroots groups to organize and fight for environmental and economic justice. She is active on environmental issues in her community and in other communities of color around the country. For the past two decades, Ms. Johnson has been a stalwart in the antiracist movement and a relentless advocate for poor people at home and abroad. She has testified before Congress, met two Presidents of the United States, sponsored "toxic tours" of her community with dignitaries, hosted two environmental conferences, spoken at hundreds of colleges and universities, and held workshops and training programs. In 1991, Ms. Johnson was tagged "Mother of the Environmental Justice Movement" at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held in Washington, D.C.
Pam Tau Lee (Asian American) is a founding member and current Board Chair of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), one of the nine environmental justice networks in the country. At and since the first EJ Summit, Pam has been working tirelessly in helping organize low-income Asian and Pacific Islander communities to fight environmental racism and contribute to a multi-racial movement for environmental justice. With the help of Pam's vision, APEN has been able to launch three grassroots organizing projects in the San Francisco Bay area and contributed to building the alliances in California and between the EJ networks around the country. Pam has committed an immense amount of hours and has played a vital role in pulling together multi-racial grassroots EJ organizers into the Summit II process as part of the Summit Planning Committee. From the South to the Southwest, from Indian country to Asian/Pacific Islander communities, she has been rallying for participation and enthusiasm for the Summit despite the challenges in the process. She has even raised excitement of young people at the Pre-Summit Youth Gathering held this August in San Francisco, CA., As the only one there over 30, she solicited youth input to the Summit program. Without Pam's principled and firm commitment to the EJ movement and the participation of grassroots folks, this second Summit would not be as diverse as it is.
Alicia Marentes (Mexican American), has been an active labor organizer and farm worker advocate since 1977. Previously, she was a migrant farmworker and a garment worker. Mrs. Marentes worked for the Texas Farm Workers Union from 1977 to 1983. Then, in February of 1983, she helped found Sin Front eras Organizing Project created to deal with the injustices and inequalities faced by the farm worker community of the U.S.-Mexico border. She is also co-founder of the Farm Worker Center, established in February of 1995. She is the Director of Social Services and Pesticides Training Coordinator at the Farm Worker Center. She participates in many local, state and national organizations that deal with issues of poverty and economic inequality. She is one of the two elected representatives of the Farm Worker Network for Economic and Environmental Justice before the Environmental Justice Fund. She has received many awards and recognitions, including the 1997 Letelier-Moffitt National Human Rights Award.
Margie Eugene Richard (African American) is president and founder of Concerned Citizens of Norco. Norco is an acronym for New Orleans Refinery Company. Richard's home was located only three yards away from the 15-acre Shell chemical plant expanded in 1955. Nearly everyone in the community suffers from health problems caused by industry pollution. The air is contaminated with bad odors from carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, sulfuric acid, ammonia, xylene and propylene. The area is polluted through the dumping of toxic substances and there are other types of land and water pollution. Ms. Richard knew about the number of people in Norco who were sick and dying of sarcoidosis and other allergenic and auto-immune diseases. Her first step was to educate the community. Along with organizers at the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, she planned workshops for community members. Participants learned how to use computers to track pollution, learned about the various agencies charged with protecting people, and about permitting and relocation processes. Ms. Richard also brought the Bucket Brigade- an innovative citizen air monitoring program- to town. The program teaches community members how take bucket samples of air at times when they smell or see things out of the ordinary. The samples are sent to an EPA-approved lab to be tested for pollutants. The resulting information is compared with the release reports that industry is required to submit when emissions exceed reportable quantities. She was also the prime mover in the relocation of Norco residents in the fence line community near Shell Oil's refinery. The company offered to move two of the community's four streets. Ms. Richard demanded justice for all.
Gloria Weaver Roberts (African American) is an advisory board member of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice She is also a member of the following organizations: LEAN, LLNP-PACE, St. James United MRBA, NPA, National Black Environmental Justice Network. The 77 year old mother and grandmother, became an environmental activist to protect her community from industrial polluters. Mrs. Roberts helped to found the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, arguing that the United States Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality should be bound by law to implement their programs and policies in a nondiscriminatory way. Mrs. Roberts developed the maps and reports that she and Ms. Emelda West used in presentations to government agencies. They worked to keep the $700 million polyvinyl chloride Shintech plant out of their small community of Convent with success.
Peggy Shepard (African American) is executive director and co-founder of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT). A former Democratic District Leader, she represented West Harlem from 1985 to April 1993, and served as President of the National Women's Political Caucus-Manhattan from 1993-1997. In 1988, Ms. Shepard co-founded West Harlem Environmental Action, a non-profit organization working to improve environmental policy, public health, and quality of life in communities of color. Based in Northern Manhattan, WE ACT advances its mission through research, public education, advocacy, organizing, government accountability, litigation, legislative affairs and sustainable economic development. WE ACT works for environmental and social justice on issues of land use, waterfront development, brownfields redevelopment; transportation and air pollution, open space and environmental health. WE ACT was New York' first environmental justice organization created to improve environmental health and quality of life in communities of color. In January 2002, Ms Shepard was elected the first female chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and is co-chair of the Northeast Environmental Justice Network that she represents on the board of the Environmental Justice Fund. She is a member of the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council of the National Institutes of Health and of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. Ms. Shepard is a frequent lecturer at universities and conferences on issues of environmental justice and community-based health research, and has written extensively in both fields. Ms. Shepard is a board member of the national and NYS Leagues of Conservation Voters, Environmental Defense, NY Earth Day, Citizen Action of NY, the Children's Environmental Health Network, and Healthy Schools Network, Inc. She is an advisory board member of the Bellevue Occupational and Environmental Medicine Clinic; the Harlem Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention; and Mt. Sinai's Children's Environmental Health Center.
Emelda J. West (African American), a mother and grandmother, became an environmental activist to protect her community from industrial polluters. In 1960, West's hometown, Convent, Louisiana, began the transformation from a farming community to a petrochemical industry town. Today, there are approximately five operating plants within a three-mile radius emitting toxins into her community. Ms. West saw racial injustice in this treatment of her community, which is 82% African American. She is one of the founders of the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment, arguing that the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality should be bound by law to enforce environmental policies in a nondiscriminatory way. She continues to strive to an end to environmental and racial injustices.
Margaret Williams (African American), at 78 still has the keen wit and tenacity that carried her through three decades of teaching. As head of a community group trying to deal with deadly health issues affecting her former Pensacola neighborhood, she needs both. Far from slipping into an easy retirement, Williams is in her ninth year at the helm of Citizens Against Toxic Exposure (CATE). The local group successfully negotiated the first relocation of an African-American community in the history of the federal Superfund program. Currently, it is involved in efforts to track down hundreds of residents, living and dead, who once lived near Escambia Treating Co. and Agrico Chemical Co. Citizens Against Toxic Exposure grew from a community startled and confused about events unfolding around it. Chemicals from the wood-treating plant had made people sick for decades, but the problem grew more severe when the Environmental Protection Agency began digging up the contaminated soil in 1991, releasing harmful chemicals into the air. The government's 1996 decision to relocate families living near the site is still viewed as CATE's greatest achievement. By educating and informing group members and the Pensacola community, CATE fosters public participation in decisions about protection from and clean- up of toxic chemicals. Since these issues affect the quality of air, soil, drinking water, surface water, and life in the area, CATE is active in outreach to potential members, to other local groups, and to governmental allies. CATE also maintains relationships with similarly concerned groups across the country. CATE is a member of Florida AAEJAN, and Ms. Williams has acted as the state network's Coordinating Council Representative since 1999. CATE was organized in the belief that every person deserves to live free from toxic exposure. CATE works to promote a healthy environment, safe living conditions, and environmental justice.