Currently’s Editor-in-Chief Abbie Veitch chatted with Jocelyn Travis last month, a recipient of the “Black Women, Green Futures” award from New Voices for Reproductive Justice. This award recognizes Black women who are leading in the environmental justice space.
Travis is a senior organizing manager with the Sierra Club. She has spent her life dedicated to fighting for social justice, civil rights, and environmental justice — specifically with communities in Cleveland.
Outline of Chat
Why is it important to celebrate Black woman leaders in the environmental and climate space?
Can you talk about what it was like being recognized alongside these other Black women leaders?
What is it like doing environmental justice work at an organization like the Sierra Club?
Other recent wins or parts of your work you want to highlight?
(All discussion paraphrased unless in direct quotes)
Abbie Veitch: Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your work?
Jocelyn Travis: I serve as senior organizing manager with the Sierra Club, which means I have a team of organizers that work on all kinds of environmental issues — from dirty fuels to shutting down coal plants to setting up air monitors. I manage organizers from Ohio to Texas. We have a lot of work to do in this country as it relates to environmental justice and environmental issues.
Before I became senior organizing manager at the Sierra Club, I started as a Ready for 100 campaign coordinator in Cleveland. The goal was to get the city of Cleveland to make a commitment to becoming a 100 percent clean renewable energy city. That was accomplished under my leadership.
Since then, I’ve had a chance to work with environmentalist community advocates on issues of environmental justice and social justice throughout Ohio.
My background is in advocacy, social justice, and civil rights involvement. I've actually been a volunteer with the NAACP since I was in seventh grade. I served many many years as a volunteer on local, state, regional, and national levels. That’s really what got me engaged with the environmental justice movement.
I'm also involved in many organizations in Cleveland — I serve on the Climate Justice Advisory Board, and I just finished a stint with the League of Women Voters. I love being engaged with Black environmental leaders and I love to help get people involved, especially around voting and elections, that's one of my biggest passions.
Abbie: Can you talk about why it's important to take a moment to celebrate Black woman leaders in the environmental and climate space right now?
Jocelyn: Unfortunately, you don't see many people of color in the environmental movement. You don't see many Black women or Black people period. It's a necessity that we are engaged because, unfortunately, it’s our Black communities and our communities of color who are most affected by environmental justice.
Too often, it’s our folks who are primarily burdened with energy issues, living near landfills and coal plants, and dealing with all kinds of climate disasters. It’s usually our communities of color who have the hardest time working through those issues.
I'm excited about being with the Sierra Club because I think we can really support our communities of color and our Black communities. We just need more people to recognize that we are excited about being engaged in this movement. We want to not just be at the table, but at the heads of the tables. We need to be listened to because we're the ones going through these experiences. Too often, you have these volunteers just making these decisions for our communities and not involving our communities.
I'm excited about the work being done at New Voices and being the recipient of the award. There are so many Black women who are doing so much good work, and they are not being recognized.
Abbie: Right, and there are so many Black women leading in the environmental justice space, but not often are they at the forefront of the conversation. Can you talk about what it was like being recognized alongside these other Black women leaders?
Jocelyn: As we celebrate Black History Month, historically, Black women have been in the trenches, working on the land for food and at the forefront of dealing with all of the issues that have to do with the climate and the environment.
It’s just really exciting to see women in so many walks of life who are just bringing those stories together and being willing to share that.
Abbie: What is it like doing environmental justice work at an organization like Sierra Club, an older organization so one where environmental justice is a newer issue for them? What's it like being one of the people who is leading this?
Jocelyn: Very exciting. I think people are realizing that everything is interrelated. You can't deal with environmental justice without dealing with social justice without dealing with human justice. It's all related. Our volunteers and our members and our staff recognize that.
Our leadership is changing. We have our first Black National Executive Director, Ben Jealous. That tells you that our National Board of Directors understands that we've got to make the shift, and we've got to walk our talk.
We're recognizing that we've got to look at the big picture, and we've got to look at how does everything relate? The only way we're going to save our planet is by putting all the pieces together and engaging everybody in this movement.
I'm excited that people are recognizing the opportunities that we have now. I really believe this is a good time for the environmental movement in our country, and the Sierra Club specifically.
Abbie: Are there any recent wins or parts of your work you want to highlight that folks who are outside of your issue areas might not know about?
Jocelyn: One of the things that I'm most proud of is helping to develop a curriculum on dialogues — around the need to listen to the community. And then not just to listen to the community, but to work with them on determining what the needs are in the community and then figuring out how we go about resolving those needs.
The dialogue is really taking off. We're in the process of finalizing that curriculum and packaging it up so that we can use it more widely throughout the organization and community.
That was established when I was the Ready for 100 campaign coordinator. We spent time listening to the community that I worked with closest in Cleveland — the Garden Valley Neighborhood House.
The Garden Valley neighborhood is probably one of the most impoverished communities, not just in the state of Ohio, but in the country. And we had a success, based on the dialogue. We just installed solar panels on the roof of the community center where we were meeting. The community center houses a food pantry that serves many people in the community.
They were dealing with some serious energy burdens, but by working together, we were able to get solar panels installed. That might be one of the biggest victories.
Abbie: That's awesome and so important, too. People talk a lot about listening to communities when engaging with communities but there isn't necessarily a “how to” for these big orgs, what a great resource.