Urban Waters Develops Learning Materials in Racial Equity, Environmental Justice, and Equitable Development


Since the inception of the Urban Waters programs, including the Urban Waters Federal Partnership, ten years ago, Urban Waters practitioners have been making a splash in the environmental sector, pioneering critical initiatives in racial equity, environmental justice, and equitable development, all while leveraging small grants and other resources to enact real change in local spaces. Environmental and racial justice are at the core of the Urban Waters movement. Members and partners of the Urban Waters Learning Network are implementing equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice directly in their own communities, in conversations with one another, and within the environmental and conservation movements more broadly.

Over the years, the Urban Waters Learning Network has curated and produced resources and tools to help organizations advance their practices in racial equity, environmental justice, and equitable development. Now that we have a decade under the belt, we are taking stock, putting it all together, and examining the impacts of Urban Waters over the years, so that we might continue to build on this foundation and lead the way into an innovative and colorful future.

Much of the work has come about as a result of ongoing conversations at River Rally and One Water Summit, where community-led organizations, educators, public agencies, and others convene to talk about, and celebrate, water. The Urban Waters Learning Network has carved out spaces with programming specifically by and for Urban Waters practitioners. We also issue scholarships to our members to help cover registration costs. This has created a “stepping stone” of access to the larger world of conferences and provided access to those who otherwise might not be able to attend. And attend they did. They shared their experiences, leveraged resources, brainstormed new ideas, and now they lead us on the path forward.

The Urban Waters Delegation, comprised of staff and youth from community-based organizations and EPA Urban Waters staff, attends the U.S. Water Alliance One Water Summit.

Over the past few years, a series of annual workshops led by a group of practitioners known loosely as the “EJ Motley group” were formalized and became a standing feature of the Urban Waters Learning Network Forum, held annually at River Rally. The first formal session, led by facilitators Darryl Haddock (West Atlanta Watershed Alliance) and Jennifer Arnold (Reciprocity Consulting LLC) and sponsored by the EPA, was held on June 21, 2019 at River Rally in Cleveland, OH. This workshop, entitled Addressing Racial Equity in Environmental Spaces, focused on personal, interpersonal, and organizational racial equity. Following an introductory conversation about the importance of racial equity, participants were encouraged to use real-world examples to think about how these concepts applied to their own work.

In 2020, the same facilitators led a workshop at virtual River Rally, called Leading with Equity for Flooding Resilience and Investments in Water Infrastructure. This workshop focused on examining how historically marginalized populations suffer disproportionately from the effects of flooding and inadequate investments in water infrastructure, and explored how an intentional focus on equity is key to increasing resilience, creating input opportunities for community feedback, and targeting future investments to positively impact vulnerable populations. This session shared examples from different urban waters contexts to show how institutionalized racism and other forms of inequity play out and what can be done to address them.

“…We recognize that we all come at this work from different perspectives and life histories. It is emotional work that requires grace, patience and a sort of tough love. It takes all of us working together to make a difference.” — Darryl Haddock, 2019

Also in 2020, the Urban Waters Learning Network and Groundwork USA unveiled the updated edition of the Learners to Leaders: Environmental Justice Literacy Curriculum. A brainchild of high school students working in environmental justice communities, the curriculum has been developed in partnership with several organizations throughout the Groundwork network and utilized in workshops at River Rally and the National Environmental Justice Conference and Training. This resource, too, comes out of years of conversation and on-the-ground interactive, hands-on learning initiatives developed through Groundwork’s Green Team program, which provides job training and environmental justice education to youth in marginalized communities and cities throughout the country.

Below is a list of some of the most recent equity-related resources and tools that can be found on our website:

If you have a resource you’d like us to highlight, please email me directly at maria@groundworkusa.org.

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