This summer, I challenged myself to think differently, behave differently and (ultimately) love a bit differently. With such a lofty goal in tow, I decided to try the nonprofit world in hopes of understanding how business professionals devise practical solutions to address environmental injustice and empower grassroots communities. Luckily, I found myself placed with the NY Environmental Grantmaker Associations office through the University of Michigan SEAS’s Environmental Fellows Program (EFP).
With the explicit intent to diversify environmental grantmaking and provide unique opportunities for professional networking, the EFP program takes mentoring for justice and sustainability to another level. It actually fosters professional relationships and critical conversation about the future of environmentalism in spaces that have for decades struggled to democratize environmental decision-making . As you can probably imagine, my experience as a fellow was more than just an interesting summer internship- it was a life altering professional fellowship experience that provided me with a new community of likeminded environmentalists.
The role I played in planning the annual EGA Retreat and fostering its successful realization moreover provided me with a new opportunity to fall in love with amazing folk who are just as passionate and committed to righting historical traumas as me. Together, I know we can cultivate the required creativity and hope to imagine, design and execute a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future for all. With that being said, here are (3) highlights from the EGA 30th Anniversary Retreat that remind me to keep love for community and nature first in these politically trying and environmentally insecure times.
- (Ocean) Policy Matters- Without a doubt, the most compelling session for me discussed the impact of plastic trash and rising sea temperatures on our coastal economies and wildlife. I was shocked to learn that in 30 years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. I was also devastated to learn the extent of global coral bleaching. Nonetheless, I was heartened to learn that dedicated environmentalists and policy advocates have used multiple platforms, from documentaries to community beach cleanups, to demonstrate their love for the ocean. Let’s say no to toxic plastics and carbon based economies!
- POC Grantmakers are the Future- EGA hosted its first POC gathering at this year’s fall retreat. This gathering allowed funders and fellows from underrepresented communities to network with one another and create support structures in hopes of diversifying environmental philanthropy. Participating and helping to coordinate this particular event helped me to understand the isolation and frustration many POC funders face as they professionalize and advocate for their communities. I was impressed by EGA’s commitment to create safe spaces for POC to congregate and fellowship. We are growing in numbers and we are the future.
- Be a Whistleblower and Laugh at Grantmaking Contradictions- I really enjoyed hearing from EPA officials who face targeted discrimination for fighting alternative facts. They get bullied by the current political administration yet continue to advocate for sound environmental policy. This let me know that I too should follow my gut and stick to my convictions. As they say, trouble don't last always. Furthermore, retreat speakers emphasized the need to use humor and play in creative ways to change minds and influence hearts. Environmental degradation is a serious topic, but our approach should center love as opposed to despair.
The future depends upon our financial and political support of similarly-minded environmental networks and mentorship programs. We are the everyday superheroes with the capacity to love one another through all of our differences and unique perspectives. I gained a new family by the end of the EGA Fall Retreat, and for that I will forever be grateful. This is my summer love story.
Frances Roberts-Gregory is a PhD Candidate in Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. She served as the 2017 Environmental Fellow at the NY EGA office. As an interdisciplinary social scientist, Frances uses feminist and critical race approaches to better understand inequitable natural resource governance. Her dissertation looks at Black and Indigenous women’s climate justice activism along Gulf Coast, Louisiana. She ultimately hopes to uplift marginalized environmental narratives and create professional environmental networks for women of color.