By Kayla Hunter.
I graduated from one of the top historically black colleges in the nation, also an all-women’s college called Spelman College. At this institution, young women of color are trained, mentored and conditioned to be servant leaders that aspire to change the world in any way they can. Studying the social determinants of health that exist at the intersection of politics, economy and environment I was made aware of large powerful forces that are continuously at work to maintain the status quo. Although very intimidating and scary, Spelman College constantly assured us that we would have what it takes to dismantle those forces. The Environmental Fellows Program pushes the same message in the way Dr. Taylor and her colleagues assure young people that they have what it takes to become dynamic leaders and decision-makers of tomorrow. I pursued the EFP because I have always aspired to be at the head of the table as a decision-maker but I just needed that extra push. Tackling the forces behind environmental issues will be no easy or quick task after all. I expected my experience as an EFP Fellow to be similar to past volunteer activities with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Environment Georgia or the Sierra Club. Instead my assumptions about the level of impact that non – profit organizations and Foundations had on major social, environmental and racial issues were proven wrong.
My summer as an EFP Fellow provided the experience I needed to ignite the fire to fight back against the large powers that harm EJ communities. I was placed at The JPB Foundation, a foundation whose mission is to advance opportunity in the United States through transformational initiatives that empower those living in poverty, enrich and sustain the environment, and enable pioneering medical research. It sparked a new perspective on potential career opportunities and a completely different view on how impactful Foundations can be to environmental causes. I enjoyed many surprises at The JPB Foundation, from sitting in meetings with famous environmental, racial and social justice activists and non-profit leaders to witnessing the positive outcomes of JPB partnerships while on site visits to local grantees. One of the Foundation’s grantees, a small community corportation, led a Toxic Tour of my birthplace, Newark, New Jersey’s most contaminated community, the Ironbound. This 4-mile, working class, multi-ethnic community is home to the Port Authority which houses active incinerators, landfills, Superfund Sites, and multi-family homes built atop dangerous contamination sites. I learned so much more about Newark’s political past and policies that contributed to the growth of environmental pollution and decline of community health in this community.
I am eternally grateful for my self-driven nature because it led me to the Environmental Fellows Program. I am constantly challenged to build leadership skills and a wider professional network necessary to shepherd long-term change in EJ communities. I conclude my summer as an EFP Fellow with a new perspective on the significance of philanthropy and non-profit work. Thanks to the EFP, I am open to riding the roller coaster of fighting for justice and change with a dynamic non-profit before entering a Foundation. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I have had as an EFP Fellow to develop long-lasting relationships and memorable experiences at The JPB Foundation. This summer I was reminded that there is a lot of work to be done, therefore the future of diversity, equity and inclusion in environmental philanthropy is crucial. Exposing young people of color to the world of philanthropy opens a door to endless possibilities and instant success because of the growth and experience it fosters. It is bound to encourage one to self-reflect, release fears and consider new, very impactful careers. For me, it helped me realize that making a huge impact awaits me just outside my comfort zone not always in the position of CEO or Executive Director.
Kayla Hunter is originally from Maplewood, New Jersey and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies with a minor in Public Health from Spelman College. She is currently pursuing a dual Masters in Urban Planning and Public Health with a focus in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan. She served as an EFP Fellow under the Environment program at The JPB Foundation located in New York City. Kayla spent her time at JPB coding the grantee projects according to resilience variables/categories established by the Foundation, exercised her GIS skills for a national grantee-mapping project and was invited to some of the Foundation’s grantee organizations to engage in site visits and tours. Kayla hopes to reshape disadvantaged communities into healthier, safer and equitable spaces for all through her leadership and expertise in the areas of health and urban planning.