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Growing New Climate Justice Leaders Through the Inaugural Ohio Environmental Leaders Initiative

OELI Cohort, November 3, 2022

Written by the OELI Cohort

The inaugural cohort of the Ohio Environmental Leaders Initiative (OELI) has been an amazing opportunity for the seven of us chosen to participate in this program. Over the course of six months, local experts from the OEC and Black Environmental Leaders Association trained us to grow our environmental advocacy skills in areas such as community organizing, board leadership, policy work, and more. Organizers ensured we were paid for our time, provided a budget for our projects, and shared resources such as Zoom to make our learning and project planning easier.

For some cohort members, OELI was an intro to the policy side of climate justice work that provided a platform to ask questions and develop skills. For others, an opportunity to fine-tune their existing expertise. But for all, OELI was a chance to create relationships with like-minded young professionals pursuing climate justice in their communities throughout Ohio.

With the guidance of hosts the Ohio Environmental Council and the Black Environmental Leaders Association, we have grown into better environmental advocates.

Throughout the program, we learned how Ohioans face a range of stressors and challenges influenced by climate change and injustice—from higher rates of respiratory illnesses to inequitable greenspace access, to pockets of food apartheid and everything in-between. Despite these overwhelming realities, we reminded each other that we all have the agency and
strengths to make small changes in our lives that allow us to be kinder to ourselves, our fellow humans, and this amazing place we call home.

We co-created a final project to showcase our strengths, utilize our training, and meet the diverse needs of our communities who are disproportionately experiencing the challenges of climate change and injustice. We developed three lesson plans with three video sessions consisting of individual research and information provided by local experts through interviews.

Coming from land that was inhabited by indigenous tribes such as the Lenape, Miami, Ottawa, Seneca, Wyandot, and many more, we found ways to honor the place that was stolen from them not that long ago in each one of our lessons.

The lesson plans include:
•    Climate Justice 101: An introduction to understanding climate justice and how community members can act
    Climate Action: Understanding how anyone can take climate action in their community; and
•    Food Injustices and Solutions in Ohio: An introduction to understanding the history of food injustice in Ohio and how to help communities impacted with food hunger

If nobody knows what to do in the face of injustice, how will anything ever get done?

Although our time in the cohort is coming to an end, our work is not completed. As the inaugural cohort, we must continue to encourage the next environmental leaders. Be it through this important initiative or mentoring a future leader, it is our duty to pass on the knowledge and advice we’ve gained.

The Ohio Environmental Leadership Initiative is a crucial program and we are all looking forward to the accomplishments future cohorts create.

>>>Community groups and educators seeking to learn more about how to take climate action in their neighborhoods can find these intentionally designed lesson plans here