Check out our new Video Series Commemorating 20 years of the Agency Working on Environmental Justice!

By Charles Lee

Since EPA first started working to advance environmental justice in 1992 by creating the Office of Environmental Equity (later renamed the Office of Environmental Justice), a lot of work has been done to reduce health disparities, improve public engagement, and create healthy, sustainable communities. This work didn’t happen overnight. It took hard work and dedication from organizations, individuals, businesses, and government officials all working to create communities that are healthy places for families to live, learn, work, and play.

After twenty years there is still work to be done, but people are continuing to make progress toward accomplishing it. So, when we in the Office of Environmental Justice decided to do a video series to commemorate the 20 year milestone, we thought the focus should be on the lessons learned from people who have been working in communities over the last 20 years. We asked them how they approach developing solutions to environmental and health issues in communities and we asked which moments in their efforts to advance environmental justice have changed the way that they think about solutions to environmental and health problems in communities. We also asked them to share why these lessons are important for the next generation who will receive the torch and continue to move it forward to achieve the goal of environmental justice.

This video series features people who have been putting “environmental justice in action” for the better part of their lives, as well as people who are just getting involved with the issue, including insight from representatives of non-profit organizations, government officials and students. Our goal is to inspire you with their stories, help transfer their knowledge best practices, and start the conversation about working for environmental justice for the next 20 years.

The first video features Vernice Miller-Travis, who documents the early years of her work to help form the nonprofit West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. Her message is simple: Sometimes it’s better to use honey instead vinegar. If you treat people with respect, then you get that respect back.

Watch the video, share it, and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. That’s what expanding the conversation on environmental justice is about!

About the author: Charles Lee is currently EPA’s Deputy Associate Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice. He is widely recognized as a true pioneer in the arena of environmental justice and helped to create the field. He is the principal author of the landmark 1987 report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. He also spearheaded efforts to establish the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and to issue Executive Order 12898 on environmental justice.