EPA Celebrates Inaugural Environmental Justice Academy Graduation
By Denise Tennessee, US EPA
On Saturday, May 6, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency celebrated the graduation of the inaugural class of the Region 4 Environmental Justice Leadership Academy: a program initiated by our Office of Environmental Justice and Sustainability (OEJS). During the ceremony at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, we honored 21 graduates from five Southeastern states.
Two OEJS staff, Ms. Sheryl Good and Ms. Daphne Wilson, recognized that many communities throughout the region – which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida – are burdened by inequitable environmental concerns. While we do provide support through funding opportunities and technical assistance programs to our communities, we saw that the agency could do more to assist in building the capacity of community leaders so that they may better address their environmental challenges.
Thus, the idea for the Environmental Justice Academy was born.
The EJ Academy is an in-depth leadership development program that offers community leaders the knowledge and skills needed to be more effective in identifying and addressing the environmental and public health challenges in their communities.
We are proud of our graduates for having completed this rigorous nine-month program.
Each module of the EJ Academy focused on one element of the EPA’s Collaborative Problem-Solving (CPS) model, which is a seven-step process for bringing about positive change and community revitalization. The CPS model emphasizes the need for community leaders, community members and their stakeholders to work together to establish mutually beneficial partnerships and solutions.
Participants were taught how to leverage human, social, technical, legal and financial resources to ensure successful collaboration and negotiation as well as how to increase the capacity of all community members as a means to establish long-term progress.
In addition to lectures by internal and external subject-matter experts, in-class exercises and homework assignments, the participants were asked to identify an environmental challenge in their community. Throughout the program, the participants were asked to apply their new skills towards designing and implementing solutions to engage their community to overcome this challenge. With individualized feedback, guidance and assistance from the experts brought in by the EJ Academy, participants were able to complete a community portfolio, which may assist them in securing funding, describing community resources and challenges, and establishing credibility amongst stakeholders, as well as an action plan to guide organizational activities.
Throughout the program, the EJ Academy assisted participants to identify and secure potential partners, to interact directly with technical experts from the EPA and other organizations, to network with regional community leaders to establish mutually beneficial relationships, and to match with nearby academic institutions in EPA’s College Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP) to provide technical assistance for the implementation of each respective project.
Please contact R4_EJAcademy@epa.gov for more information.
People interested in applying for the next EJ Academy class should reside in a Region 4 state and be able to demonstrate that they are actively involved in a leadership capacity in a community that has been disproportionately impacted from environmental contaminants.
Congratulations to the inaugural Environmental Justice Academy graduates. We have graduated a remarkable class. We feel strongly that each and every one of our graduates has the ability to make a visible difference in the communities that they serve. Their achievement underscores our commitment at the EPA to help improve the health and viability of all communities, including some of the most vulnerable populations. We look forward to watching the incredible things that these graduates do!
And stay tuned to the Environmental Justice in Action blog because we will be highlighting the stories and work of our amazing EJ Academy graduates!
About the Author: Denise Tennessee is the Director of the EPA’s Region 4 Office of Environmental Justice and Sustainability in Atlanta, Georgia. She is responsible for implementing the environmental justice, pollution prevention and source reduction programs, and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiative in eight southeastern states. With over 34 years of professional experience, she has also worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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