By Drew Wood-Palmer, MPH
In June of this year, I joined the Girl + Environment (GPE) Team as a Program Associate for the Protecting Our Energy Project. Prior to joining GPE, the extent to which I knew about environmental justice was limited to finding ways to protect myself against exposure to insecticides and PFAs (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), thanks to an introductory environmental health course I took in graduate school. In the short six months that I have been with Girl + Environment, I have learned that yes, environmental justice includes the demand for protection against harmful chemicals like PFAs, but it also extends beyond that; it is a social movement geared towards addressing the unfair exposure of historically marginalized communities to harms from hazardous waste, resource extraction, and other land uses. In essence, it is a movement dedicated to increasing the access and quality of environmental resources for minorities. It is a fight for a better quality of life for people that look like me.
The Protecting Our Energy Project was simply an idea when I first joined the GPE team. With the goal of hosting three in-person workshops in Atlanta, Georgia, to educate, engage, and empower Black and Brown women and non-binary individuals on the topic of energy burden, we had a large, but purposeful task ahead. From June to November, Diamond and I brainstormed, planned, organized, brainstormed again, prepped and hosted a cohort of 25 Black women for three, free in-person workshops from September to November. We even had the privilege of providing each cohort member with free lunch for each workshop and a $150 stipend upon completion of the program.
Each Saturday that we met provided an opportunity to grow in our understanding of energy justice, both individually and as a collective. We (I say we, because I too, took away a lot from the discussions), learned about energy burden, why it is important and how it impacts us. We also learned about Georgia’s Rate Case and how to get involved and make sure our voices are heard, and we heard presentations from other Black women in the environmental justice field. Most importantly, we created a safe and comfortable space to be vulnerable and share how the potential future decisions of Georgia’s Public Service Commission would disproportionately impact us.
As I reflect back on every weekly meeting from June to November to plan, to every Saturday we spent facilitating the workshops, none of it felt like work. It felt more personal. It felt like a calling. Being able to help nurture such a necessary and impactful idea into reality, created for Black women, by Black women, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of 2022.
As I told Diamond in our last meeting, this is just the start of the amazing work GPE is doing and I cannot wait to bear witness to what is to come! Did you hear that funders? Looks like we'll need more funding!