After working behind the scenes in nonprofits for more than 15 years, Tiffany FitzGerald had no intention of stepping into the spotlight. Earlier this year, she noticed that a job posting for an executive director role at DC Greens, a food justice nonprofit, had remained open for a while. She offered to give the search team some recommendations.
“As someone who had pretty good connections in D.C.’s activist community, knowing that DC Greens was looking for someone who kind of had that fighting spirit, that activist inclination, I thought, ‘well, I know a lot of people, maybe I can suggest someone,’” she said.
She was surprised when the team asked if she herself wanted to apply.
“The idea of being an executive director genuinely was not on my radar,” FitzGerald said. “But I loved the organization.”
After a lengthy round of interviews, she became DC Greens’ new head this past July. She is the organization’s second executive director, taking over from co-founder Lauren Shweder Biel. After Biel’s retirement in January, the organization worked with a search firm to conduct a national search. In choosing FitzGerald, though, they went with homegrown talent.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, FitzGerald knew without a doubt that she wanted to return to the DMV after attending college in Williamsburg, Virginia. Since then, she’s lived in four of the District’s eight wards. Currently, she lives in Columbia Heights with her two children.
“Particularly for my kids, being born and raised in D.C., I just really hope that they grow up with the love of this city and the sense of place that was very strong for me when I was growing up,” Fitzgerald said.
That deep connection to the District led her to the local advocacy space after more than a decade working in national nonprofits. In 2012, she got her start in fundraising at the Folger Shakespeare Library, having studied English at William & Mary.
“[That job] really spoke to all of the geeky things that I love: history, literature, land, legacy and preservation,” FitzGerald said. “It was only because I wanted to be doing work that more immediately spoke to equity and justice issues that I left the arts and culture space.”
FitzGerald said she found herself drawn in by a “kernel” of social justice work she saw in that role: the Folger ran programs that brought Shakespearean experts and actors to DMV schools, especially in Wards 7 and 8. But the real push came when she had her first son, seven years ago.
“I certainly would never assert that parenting is the only thing that makes you really, really think about the future and the world that you’re leaving behind. But for me, that was a really deep trigger,” she said.
She moved on to work in development at Community Change, a nonprofit centered on building political power for low-income Americans. Then she spent time fundraising at Demos, a think-tank focused on racial and economic justice and democratic reform.
While at Demos, she began working on big-picture questions about how nonprofits function—and how organizations can avoid perpetuating the very power imbalances they’re trying to fight. She left Demos to become an organizational development consultant, helping nonprofits work on their own internal cultures.
“I was really focused on really having deep conversations that really address the ways that systemic harm is perpetuated inside nonprofits, sometimes even inside very progressive nonprofits,” she said.
She’s taken that focus to her role with DC Greens, too. The culture she envisions for the organization emphasizes trust, relationships, “radical honesty,” and giving employees’ space to acknowledge the difficulty of their mission to shift deeply-entrenched systems. Being able to discuss big ideas around nonprofit culture within justice work was a major draw for FitzGerald when taking the job.
“Before this, Tiffany did not want to be in the public eye,” said Latoya Peterson, a close friend for more than a decade. “But she basically said ‘this job allows me to really talk about justice, and I can feel my platform.’ Tiffany is deeply enmeshed in justice. She’s always thinking about what is going to directly improve the lives of women of color and the lives of children of color.”
FitzGerald also described a sense of disillusionment with national institutions that pushed her to think seriously about her role in local activism. Following the police murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, she felt like she was losing some faith in American democratic systems. Meanwhile, she watched her neighbors in the District organize around statehood, tenants rights, and mutual aid networks.
“The idea of making systemic changes that literally affect the place where I live, the place where I raise my children, the place where I pay taxes—that suddenly became really exciting to me,” FitzGerald said. “You know, my government has let me down so many times, but my community has never let me down.”
DC Greens’ community-centered work tackles health equity and food justice issues through a mix of programming, policy advocacy, and—as of June—the running of an urban farm in Congress Heights called The Well at Oxon Run. The organization’s vision for The Well goes beyond fresh food produced at the farm; the 50,000-square-foot space also hosts wellness and education programs during its open season.
“The Well just presents such an incredible opportunity to have an intergenerational gathering space,” FitzGerald said. “We’re using food as the starting point to have these conversations about why people feel disenfranchised and what it’s going to take for people to feel involved and invested and heard.”
Linking together different social justice conversations is a major part of FitzGerald’s philosophy. She’s intent on coalition-building across issue areas, including housing justice, racial and gender equity, and food systems change.
FitzGerald said she sees environmental justice, and especially access to nature, as a major part of those linked fights. The history of systematic land theft from Black and Indigenous people speaks to her own sense of place in the DMV.
“My sense of connection to the land is really deeply aligned and centered on the question of ‘What would our Black and Indigenous communities be if we had not had these millions of acres of land stolen from our people in this country?” she said. “And the connection between food and land and power is inextricable.”
At DC Greens, FitzGerald is working to build that power in the District alongside other dedicated justice workers. Nearly all of the organization’s team members are women, and more than half are women of color.
“There’s so much brilliance and innovation and direct lived experience that can help us solve the climate crisis, and the nutrition crisis and all these different crises,” FitzGerald said. “It’s almost cliched at this point, but it’s true: the people who are closest to the problems really are the best equipped to find the solutions.”
This profile is part of an ongoing series highlighting Black voices advocating for the Earth here in the District. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured, or just want to offer feedback, please reach out! I’m at email@example.com .