Holding Authentic Space for Equity

By Taylor Mayes, CRCJ Communications Coordinator

When we go into a space, we often assess who’s in the room – we give introductions, share what organizations we are affiliated with, and so on. But what if we also asked ourselves and each other, who’s not in the room?

Welcome to the Roundtable Blog. My name is Taylor Mayes and I am currently working as the Communications Coordinator for the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. I am 22 years old and I proudly identify, intersectionally, as a Black Woman. This is important to note because it provides context to a lot of my values and politics when it comes to the environmental movement.

Me and Mustafa Salahuddin of ATU Local 1336 (Bridgeport)

I am passionate about working for the Roundtable and empowering Black and Brown people to build alliances and make connections in the fight for racial, environmental and economic justice.

I graduated from the University of Connecticut in May of 2018 with a degree in Environmental Studies and a minor in Political Science. Shortly after I graduated, I had the opportunity to present at the 2018 Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences Conference in Washington D.C. The theme of this conference, “the need for much broader and richer inclusion in all aspects of environmental studies and sciences”, provided an excellent platform for me to talk about my experience as an undergrad.

I reported to my audience that my environmental studies at UConn had left me and my community out of its curriculum entirely. There were no classes titled Black Environmental Thought, Black Environmental History, Environmental Justice, Ethics, or any mention at all of a Black presence in the environmental movement. My punchline? This inaccurate and untrue omission of Black involvement in university curriculums leads to a lack of diversity in our environmental organizations.

And I would argue that one of the reasons why this movement often largely lacks political will is because people don’t see themselves in it.

The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies” by Dr. Dorceta Taylor

Furthermore, when the people representing environmental organizations don’t reflect those at the forefront of climate change, it can lead to our community’s perspectives and needs not being accounted for, heard, or met.

How do we begin to encourage and empower new and diverse communities to participate? We can start by holding space for them. Think about saving a seat for a friend, that simple act of reserving a space for them ensures that they can stay. To hold space for diversity, we have to think holistically about where there is none. Space can be organizational funding, time to speak at the meeting, room on the agenda, or even just a simple seat at the table.

My hope is that with these blog posts, I am able to elevate not just Black and Brown people but all who are underrepresented in this space. The Roundtable advocates for people of different religions, socio-economic backgrounds, occupations, and races. I intend to be a key player in elevating these voices as integral components to this larger environmental conversation. University curriculums and environmental organizations need to also do their part in creating authentic space for diversity at forefront of this movement.

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Aisha K. Staggers
Author: Aisha K. Staggers

Provider of "proactive and strategic communications" with a solid background in print and digital journalism. Communications Director of Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs.