2020 Appalachia and South Atlantic Spotlight Series

We are highlighting the dynamic work of 2020 BEA Fund grantees as part of a multimedia series that will include written features sent to our listserv, social media and here on the website. 

Read about our BEA Fund Grantee Spotlight organizations below. 

Black Dirt Farm Collective

The Black Dirt Farm Collective is a collective of Black farmers, educators, scientists, agrarians, seed keepers, organizers, and researchers guiding a political education process in Washington, D.C. They are a relationship-based collective and during the pandemic they had the opportunity to support each other in ways personally and collectively. Their community of growers saw tremendous growth as leaders in their communities and recognize the healing work they do as pivotal to a healthy ecology. All the work that they do is rebuilding a regenerative economy as they practice a shared and collective education process. They do this internally and externally as they continue to build institutions of the afrofuture 

The farm name, Black Dirt, is created to bring an image of Black Dirt (which is healthy and biologically active soil) to the mind of the larger community. It is also to remind the larger community that as a farmer and farm, the basic tenet of their jobs as food producers and as care-takers of the land, is their responsibility to the soil - one of the basic units in a healthy environment. To retain Black, in Black Dirt, is to pay homage to the black agrarian experience and to the totality of the agrarian struggle in the Americas.

There were many challenges this year, as the pandemic and the uprising brought up much about the lack of concern this country's government and institutions have for Black people. The year's challenges were related to being sequestered and were all about not being able to meet in person. They hope to continue to offer their Afroecology and Agroecology encounters in the future in a safe, and still generative way.

Environmental Community Action (ECO-Action)

Environmental Community Action (ECO-Action) of Atlanta, GA, believes that communities have the right to clean air, land and water and should have a right to participate in the decisions that affect their own lives. Incredibly, many communities still do not have that right today. Those affected most by toxic chemical exposure are people who live in low-income communities and communities of color. ECO-Action believes that people who work collectively to organize, make change, share resources, and solve problems will make a positive impact on their community’s health, environment and prosperity.

ECO-Action was very proud of their success at Advancing Green Infrastructure Conference in December 2020. The Green Infrastructure Initiative at the Atlanta University Center (AUC) community works to address the impact of flooding and inequity on the low-elevation, predominantly African American communities. Through the conference they gained support of two additional colleges to implement the green infrastructure stormwater management plans developed by AUC college students in 2008. Also, they are proud of their work with leaders and members of Rebuilding Together Glynn County and the Environmental Justice Advisory Board in Brunswick, Glynn County; their efforts led to the creation and implementation of Environmental Justice Academy for the frontline community residents. And finally, they are proud that the most recent 2020/2021 graduates of the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network (AWLN) training cohort are not only serving as advocates for watershed protection and also for environmental justice and equity, and equitable development.

This year has been particularly challenging given the nature of the work ECO-Action does in communities. Working virtually is difficult when so many of those they serve have limited computer access or relatively low levels of computer literacy. Another challenge has been sustaining momentum in a political climate that suppresses the voices of people of color who are advocating for racial and economic justice. The pandemic and national election occupied so much of the attention of many political leaders, it seemed that they had less energy to devote to the environmental justice issues of the communities they serve at a local level. Putting things in perspective (historical context) has helped them keep their eyes fixed on the prize no matter what!

ECO-Action remains engaged in work that is improving communities’ ability to respond to toxic chemical exposures. On Saturday, November 13th, they will be training members of the Environmental Justice Academy in Brunswick on the topic “Monitoring Toxic Chemical Exposures, Becoming Change Agents to Advance Environmental Justice.” They are also working with the Center for Health and Environmental Justice (CHEJ), introducing Georgia communities to CHEJ’s Unequal Response, Unequal Protection Campaign.  You can contact ECO-Action at @email to learn more about this initiative in Georgia. Furthermore, you can view this the Finding the Flint video which was created by ECO-Action partner, The Conservation Fund; it showcases a number of AWLN members who are residents of the communities at the Flint Headwaters.

Farmworker Association of Florida (FWAF)

The Farmworker Association of Florida’s (FWAF) long-standing mission is to build power among farmworker and rural low-income communities, to respond to and gain control over the social, political, economic, workplace, health, and environmental justice issues that impact their lives. Their guiding vision is a social environment where farmworkers’ contribution, dignity, and worth are acknowledged, appreciated, and respected through economic, social, and environmental justice. This vision includes farmworkers being treated as equals, and not exploited and discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, or immigrant or socioeconomic status.

Although much of their usual organizing efforts were curtailed due to Covid-19, they were still able to build power and to strengthen connections this past year with the communities where they work. By being present and pivoting to the critical needs of the community, FWAF demonstrated once again that it will be there for the communities through both the good times and more difficult times. Response to the pandemic has enabled them to develop new relationships not only with community members but with businesses, new funders, and local volunteers as well. 

FWAF was also able to be part of what became a national theme of shining a light on “essential workers.” On the first of May last year FWAF organized a #MayDay “motorcade” in Apopka supporting essential workers. Several dozen cars drove to a number of local farms to distribute masks, express appreciation, encourage safe practices and affirm directly to those in the fields the critical importance of their work for our community and nation. That same day the motorcade made its way to the parking lot of the local hospital where they displayed signs of appreciation and affirmation to the healthcare workers and all the workers at the hospital. The naming of essential workers in so many areas of our national life and the recognition that many are invisible and that most struggle financially has become an important narrative shift this past year. This is a theme FWAF will build on as they continue to work for safe and secure employment as well as a living wage for farmworkers and all essential workers. 

FWAF has an important fundraiser coming up this month called Give Miami Day. To learn more and to participate, you can visit this website

Miami Workers Center (MWC)

The Miami Workers Center (MWC) organizes towards dignity, power, and self-determination with domestic workers, tenants, and families in Miami, FL. MWC is a frontline strategy and action center whose purpose is to build the power and self-determination of south Florida’s most oppressed communities and help to build a progressive voice and platform that can nurture the growth of movements for social change in South Florida. They employ an intersectional approach linking gender, race, and socio-economic status across their analysis and programs.

MWC is most proud of the work they have been doing connecting tenant and worker rights to climate gentrification and how they are interconnected. In addition to canvassing, MWC has been advocating for increased support and protections for tenants experiencing the eviction crisis head on and to get essential information and resources to Black, Latina and brown women-headed families. They are also proud of the work they are doing to maintain and sustain a political home for Black, brown and Latinx women in south Florida, rather than just centering these voters during Presidential elections. Likewise, their work to demand a just recovery that centers and is responsive to the needs of their constituents is something they are very proud of. Their increased investments in political education and leadership development programs have been enabling their progress in power building and building broad based coalitions around eviction defense and domestic work.

A key factor that has enabled progress has been their decision to start getting back to basics with their organizing tactics – they utilized socially distanced canvassing to reach many renters who would not necessarily engage virtually, while also doing key eviction defense-related outreach to renters and workers education and outreach. Miami Workers Center also supports a member-led Women's Circle that centers healing and wellness. Their investment in this work during the elections and the census campaign has paid dividends, particularly around their eviction defense awareness work and advocacy.

The Alliance for Appalachia

The Alliance for Appalachia is a coalition of 16 member groups throughout the Appalachian region, spanning from Pennsylvania to Alabama. They believe that their campaigns are an important element of the national effort for progressive, systemic change in our nation’s economic, energy, and environmental policies. By working in coalition to highlight and organize against the dangers and true costs of our dependence on coal, they can help move the nation toward a new ethic of whole and healthy communities and away from our current extraction economy. They partner with the National RECLAIM coalition and are a member of the Climate Justice Alliance and the BEA. Coalitions have the ability to harness collective power and leverage that power for shared campaigns. 

The Alliance for Appalachia believes the impact of their work over the years has been foundational towards creating systems changes to advance a just transition for their region and supporting member groups in communities impacted by resource extraction. They are proud of all the years of work leading up to the reintroduction of key legislation that directly addresses repairing damages from extractive and polluting industries to the health of communities and ecosystems. 

In the coming months, they are recommitting to their values through an internal review and strengthening the commitment to just transition in the region. They look forward to learning best practices from partner coalitions that have also undertaken this process. They also recently released a report back from their August 2020 – February 2021 listening project. The report sought to educate and learn from those interviewed as well as solicit tactics and strategies around the issues surrounding coal company bankruptcy and post-law unreclaimed mine lands. Further input is welcomed from partner coalitions. 

The STAY Together Appalachian Youth Project

The STAY Together Appalachian Youth Project is a network of young people, aged 14-30, who are committed to supporting one another to make their communities across Appalachia places where they can and want to STAY. Their resources are their relationships and their kin networks that transcend state and county lines, they are providing strength and refuge in each other. Even during this deeply challenging time when gathering in person has been difficult and sometimes not possible, the STAY Project has kept creating spaces to connect youth across urban and rural divides in Appalachia to build relationships, skills, political analysis, and a vision for how young people survive and thrive in their region. 

In July they transformed their annual Summer Institute programming to host five small, in-person gatherings in outdoor locations across the region in Big Stone Gap, VA, Charleston, WV, Knoxville, TN, Boone, NC, and Gadsden, AL. They spent the day examining the issues that they are facing as young people in their communities, the ways their communities have been and continue to be extracted from, criminalized, and divested from, while also dreaming of the healthy and inclusive communities that they are building—communities where young people's creativity and complexity and care is celebrated, supported, and invested in. They spent time deepening their relationships with one another, listening to music, singing, doing flips, and being joyful together. Additionally, since October 2020, a youth-led staff transition team has been working with great care to design a hiring and transition process that lives into the STAY Project’s mission and values. They formed a team to transfer and decentralize the relationship and knowledge that allow STAY to run, to support the onboarding and orientation of the new Co-Coordinators, and to honor, celebrate, and support Lou Murrey as they roll out of their role as coordinator. In August 2021 two new Co-Coordinators, Faith Johnson and Jules Kessler, joined Mekyah Davis in this role in preparation for Lou Murrey transitioning out. They are thrilled about the possibilities that this leadership structure allows for the personal and collective development, growth, and deepening of their work, and that they have generated a model for sustainable leadership transition that can be, and has been, replicated, adapted, and learned from within and beyond STAY’s work.