Environmental Civil Rights and Andrew Goodman's Legacy

I was humbled recently to learn that I was receiving a Hidden Heroes Award from the Andrew Goodman Foundation. This Sunday, I will be honored to accept the award at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem.

The Hidden Hero Awards are just one expression of the remarkable mission of this foundation, which was launched after the murder of Andrew Goodman in 1964. Goodman was only 20 years old when he volunteered for Freedom Summer to register African Americans voters. On his first day in Mississippi, he set out with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner to visit a nearby church, but the three never returned.

Two years after his death, his parents Carolyn and Robert Goodman opened the Andrew Goodman Foundation to promote the values Andrew had lived and died for: universal civil rights, social justice, free speech, and social and political activism.

For me, receiving this award is an important reminder of the deep connections between civil rights and environmental justice. It is well known  that people who live, work, and attend school in America's most polluted environments are most often people of color and the poor. This is no accident. Communities of color are routinely targeted to host facilities that bring negative environmental impacts--things like landfills, dirty industrial plants, or truck depots.

Communities of color have been fighting environmental racism for decades, and I am pleased to be able to say NRDC has played a role in some of these battles. We  have partnered with local groups to fight polluters, and  continually  advocate for more just environmental safeguards at the city, state, and federal levels.

Our work ranges from partnering with WE ACT in West Harlem to limit pollution from a sewage treatment plant to pushing port terminals around the nation to adopt cleaner shipping and trucking technologies that prevent pollution from falling on nearby low- and working-class communities.

I am proud of NRDC's work, but Andrew Goodman's legacy reminds me that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us in the civil rights and environmental justice movement, and that there is so much more to do.

The accomplishments--and sacrifices--of our previous leaders drive me to ensure that NRDC's work continues to advance justice in all that we do.