Contact: Donzell Brown
BALTIMORE – The Environmental Justice Journalism Initiative, a new organization focused on teaching Baltimore City students journalistic skills that they can apply to careers in multiple environmental fields, has received a $20,000 grant from the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment. EJJI received the award along with its fiscal sponsor and partner, Clergy United for the Transformation of Sandtown (CUTS), which is focusing on health, safety, and
quality-of-life improvements in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore.
The Campbell Foundation’s philanthropy focuses on science-based decisions and strategically focused actions to address critical problems facing our most fragile resources, focusing its environmental work on the Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Bays, and the San Francisco Bay areas. Its support has helped establish many organizations in the Chesapeake Bay watershed who have over the years become effective advocates for clean water and sound policy. The Campbell grant allows EJJI to build on work it began during the pandemic with the National Aquarium’s Henry Hall Fellowship, adding an environmental justice and journalism component to an already robust marine science curriculum. It will be continuing that work this summer as a partner with Youthworks and Baltimore City.
EJJI has four goals: teach students to tell their own stories about environmental injustices in Baltimore; publish them on a student-run platform as well as place them in area newspapers and on radio and television web sites and independent news sources; develop skills that are journalistic in nature but transfer well to other fields, such as gathering public information, reading scientific reports, calling and interviewing sources, filming, design, and social-media skills; and establish a cohort so that the students have mentors and support as they pursue their education and develop their careers.
“The Keith Campbell Foundation has a legacy of funding environmental excellence, and I’m delighted they are supporting us,” said Rona Kobell, a longtime environmental journalist who is president of EJJI’s board. “There is a lot more to environmental journalism in the Chesapeake Bay than crabs and oysters. But if we don’t build diversity into the reporting ranks, we will not be able to find and tell those stories, and that will be a loss to the Chesapeake readership.”
Donzell Brown Jr., a longtime community organizer who serves on the Baltimore Sustainability Commission, is EJJI’s co-founder and executive director. Brown will be one of the first Black leaders at the helm of an environmental organization in the Chesapeake region, and he and Kobell have made a deliberate effort to bring in Black scientists, politicians and pastors to address the students.
“I know how important representation is, and I know how hard it is to be the only one,” Brown said. “One of the most important things we can do is build a cohort, and a mentor-mentee relationship, and connect our young people to opportunities. Every place says they want a more diverse workforce, because it’s been shown to be a more productive and happier one. Both environmental journalism and environmental science lack diversity. And it will stay that way if students don’t find them welcoming places to work.”
Bernard Warren, Executive Director of CUTS, is eager to build a relationship with a news organization that sees his community as more than just the former home of Freddie Gray. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program considers a healthy city one with less than 10 percent impervious surface. Parts of Sandtown-Winchester are close to 90 percent. That translates into lower life expectancies and poor health.
“I want people who cover our neighborhood to understand it, to see how we struggle, and how proud we are of what we once were and could be again,” said Warren, noting that Old West Baltimore once hosted jazz greats and fine houses. “But we can’t even get a grocery store, with all the people we have here, and that’s an environmental justice issue, too. It’s time we were able to tell our own stories instead of letting others tell them for us.”