In March of 2018, Urban Waterways launched Women’s Environmental Leadership (WEL) inspired by the work of women in the various communities and organizations documented by the project over the course of its first eight years. The goal of the initiative is to build the capacity for future environmental leadership by convening a national and international network of established women environmental leaders with emerging and aspiring leaders for in-person discussions focused on the exchange of best practices, wisdom, and experience.
The first year’s summit was based on the principal of creating intimate spaces in which our sixty attendees could meet as both professionals and people. In the morning participants rotated through a series of panel discussions focused on mentorship, education & training, and leadership and afternoons were dedicated to workshops exploring issues of particular interest to the Anacostia Watershed and its communities. The second day the initiative’s inaugural meeting was focused on a community forum, Women’s Environmental Leadership. Moderator Vernice Miller-Travis, The Metropolitan Group led panelists Leslie G. Fields, Director, Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships, Sierra Club- Irma R. Muñoz, Founder and President, Mujeres de la Tierra- Cynthia Peurifoy, Regional Environmental Justice Coordinator (retired), U.S. EPA Region 4, Office of Environmental Justice and Effie Turnbull Sanders, Executive Director, South Los Angeles Empowerment Zone (SLATE-Z) in a discussion which explored their personal and professional journeys, best practices for galvanizing community efforts, reflections on the impacts of their efforts, and the next steps in the field of environmental advocacy.
Due to the generous support of the Smithsonian’s American Women’s History Initiative the second year of WEL saw an expansion of programming. WEL network members hosted their mentors at two Dinner & Discussion and led workshops on the power of urban farming to revitalize communities and the impact STEAM collaboration can have on engaging communities around environmental issues and advocacy.
In the summer of 2019 a series of oral histories documented the experiences, contributions, and best practices of women who have played foundational roles in efforts to advocate for the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to communities and local environments. Drawing from a network of women from diverse sets of backgrounds and disciplines, these histories highlight how such efforts contribute to ongoing environmental and social justice movements which have been and continue to be foundational to the American experience. The Interviews broaden the historical narrative, providing testimonies of the ways in which civic obligation and leadership has been understood and enacted by women whose contributions have been underrepresented. By providing a platform for these leaders to define the various networks in which their professional and personal histories intersect, the series will challenge traditional societal and organizational barriers and work to encourage and support new models for leadership that value creativity, relationship development, collaboration, empathy, resiliency, and self-advocacy. The oral histories served as material for the recently published Women, Environmentalism & Justice, a publication for middle-school audiences that traces the personal and professional journeys of six environmental leaders.
The major event of WEL 2019 was a gathering of local, national, and international partners at the second annual WEL summit. Almost 100 participants from diverse communities, disciplines, and experiences gathered to explore such issues as Cultural Practice as Environmental Acivism, Knowing Your Worth, Engaging Youth Along the Anacostia, Documenting Your Waterways, Translating the Science, and Faith Communities and Environmental Advocacy.
While the world shaped by COVID-19 has necessitated adaptation in how ACM engages our collaborators, WEL continues later this fall with a series of virtual lectures which will explore the process of moving toward climate literate communities, models of international STEAM collaborations, and the role of universities as partners in environmental advocacy and community revitalization and a workshop which will provide a model of an ecological justice ministry. We will also continue to share the knowledge and moments of recognition and connection, and pathways forward documented in images, panel discussions, and ongoing oral histories though the Urban Waterways website.
We invite you to join us.