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RVC Community Impact alumni push for HEAL Act

Building meaningful and strong relationships moves people into action in environmental justice

By Hana Gregory, 2017-2019 RVC Community Impact Fellow

RVC Community Impact Fellowship alumni Niesha Fort (2015-2017 cohort) and Johnny Fikru (2017-2019 cohort). It’s really impactful to see two members of both of our cohorts come together to help advocate on behalf of the HEAL Act.

Johnny Fikru is a recent graduated Rainier Valley Corps Community Impact Fellow who was placed at partner organization Got Green — who is continuing to make a great impact in his organization and within his community. Got Green is a South Seattle-based grassroots organization led by people of color and low income people. It organizes for environmental, racial, and economic justice. Johnny is their Young Leaders Organizer, a role he absolutely thrives in.

During his 2017-2019 fellowship with RVC, which was capped off with a graduation earlier in the summer, Johnny learned the importance of partnerships and building trusting relationships with other community organizations.

This led him to build a bond with Front and Centered. Front and Centered, a statewide coalition of more than 60 organizations that focuses on communities of color, people from lower income communities, and Indigenous people who are on the frontlines of climate and environmental change, ensuring that they have a prominent voice in issues of economic and environmental change.

“We are hit first by extraction, pollution, and climate change, which makes existing health and economic disparities worse,” states Front and Centered’s website. “Yet frontline communities are often left out of or are the last to be included in the transition to healthy, resilient and sustainable future. … As thought leaders and organizers, we build our agenda and strength with our grassroots community. Together we reach hundreds of thousands of families and individuals. We build power and capacity for a Just Transition that centers equity and is led by people of color.”

Johnny and Front and Centered’s partnership grew when he went down to Olympia to advocate for Healthy Environment for All, the HEAL Act (SB 5489) earlier in the year. (What’s noteworthy is that among those he went down with was Niesha Fort, an RVC Community Impact alumnus from our very first cohort!)

The HEAL Act will define environmental justice for state agencies, creating a foundation and pathway for all communities to benefit from environmental policy. The bill will require state agencies to use environmental health disparity data and analysis when making decisions about enforcement, investments and policy development. It would improve public participation tools to garner community input for policies, including translated services and materials. Lastly, it would coordinate state agencies to improve environmental health by reducing disparities between communities.

When Johnny received the call from Front and Centered to have his voice heard down at the state capitol, he took it. He rallied, supported, and dropped some knowledge on lawmakers around how important Senate Bill 5849 is to the entirety of Washington.

“Front and Centered is advocating on the state level for the work that I am doing with Got Green in South Seattle, it is so important to show up to support for the people who are fighting for us on a state level!” said Johnny.

To learn more about the HEAL act, go here.


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