This year Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum celebrates the year of Our Environment, Our Future. It has been eleven years since the museum invited its community partners to engage in explorations and conversations around our relationship with the Anacostia River. This year we invite the community to explore the impact of women’s environmental leadership along the Anacostia through the exhibition to Live and Breathe: Women and Environmental Justice in Washington, DC which opens to the public on May 19. Curated by Dr. Rachel F. Seidman, the exhibition is the next step in the museum’s ongoing exploration and documentation of women’s environmental leadership which launched in 2018 with the Preparing the Next Generation Summit.
Over the years our Women’s Environmental Leadership program (WEL) has grown to include oral histories, community forums, lectures, and the publication Women, Environmentalism, and Justice. WEL was developed with the intention of having women leading in environmental spaces meet not only as professionals but also people. Who am I? What communities do I represent? How do I define environment? How do I do this work? Why do I do this work? What is at stake? Programming is guided by the themes of mentorship, education/training, and leadership. Central to our collaboration has been the insistence that our various convenings and conversations be multigenerational. Many of the women whose leadership and impact we’ve highlighted have their earliest memories of becoming engaged in community activism and advocacy though the mentorship of loved ones. They point to parents, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, neighbors, and colleagues who have shaped their connection to place, their sense of power, their understanding of their right to ask questions and work to effect meaningful change in the face of a multitude of social justice issues. Could, we wondered, WEL provide another space and platform where mentorship and network building take place?
The launch of the Environmental Justice Academy (EJA) in March of this year, is one attempt to engage young women and non-binary youth of color ages 14-18 in an exploration of environmentalism as a form of civic engagement…civic stewardship. Using the Anacostia watershed and its communities as a lens through which they can explore how concepts of community, justice, and environment intersect to impact every aspect of daily life, EJA will use a STEAM framework to engage the cohort in an exploration of the environmental issues impacting their communities. Students will explore pathways to understanding and acting on realities which shape the health of the places that have shaped them-their sense of self and their understanding of and right to move through the world.
The hybrid program (most of the spring sessions will be virtual with a two-week in-person summer session) will introduce students to women who are leading in a multitude of environmental spaces at local, regional, national, and international levels. Through presentations, discussions, and field trips, students will explore environmental justice issues along the Anacostia through the pathways of policy & advocacy, arts & culture, faith, and inclusive leadership (women and youth). Over the course of the summer sessions, academy participants will focus on one environmental issue impacting the Anacostia and its communities, exploring causes, historical and present-day impacts, histories of community activism and advocacy, and possible next steps. They will also draft twelve EJ Principles essential to achieving an equitable, healthy, and sustainable Anacostia watershed.
As Our Environment, Our Future unfolds, EJA sits in a larger context of ACM’s next phase of its environmental work. In addition to the opening of To Live and Breathe in May and the next growing season of our Urban Garden workshops, our Urban Waterways project enters the first phase of its transformation into the Center for Environmental Justice as Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum. EJA, like all of ACM’s environmental work over the past 55 years, is rooted in the museum’s legacy of inviting stakeholders of all ages to explore active histories of community connection to and stewardship of place, recognizing the expertise and potential of our younger community partners, and collaborating with our various partners to envision the future and catalyze change.