Environment Council of Rhode Island

...building an ecologically healthy future in a sustainable economy

A Message from the Executive Committee, June 22, 2020

Black Lives Matter.

There’s no climate justice without racial justice.

Dear Environment Council Rhode Island members:

On June 6, 10,000 protesters in Providence took to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the countless number of black lives that have been claimed by police violence, white supremacy, and systemic racism.

Black Lives Matter. Police brutality is a real threat to Rhode Island’s communities of color, and it is just one of many oppressive practices that constitute systemic racism. Of particular note to the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), frontline communities—Black, Indigenous, and People of Color—are disproportionately affected by environmental injustice. Providence has one of the country’s highest rates of asthma, exacerbated by poor air quality from industry and highways. Unsafe levels of lead can be found in drinking water and in paint across the city. Rhode Island’s communities of color and poor urban communities have fossil fuel infrastructure in their backyards, surrounding the area with toxic industrial facilities where green space ought to be.

In every one of these examples, Black, Latinx, and Indigineous people are the hardest hit, and yet they continue to be excluded from the mainstream environmental movement, which remains majority white and affluent. Existing examples of environmental racism have amplified the impacts of the climate crisis, and now the COVID-19 pandemic, on marginalized communities. Enough is enough. As a coalition of over 60 environmental organizations and even more individuals, ECRI recognizes the responsibility we have in changing the status quo and commit ourselves to dismantling systemic racism. This is why the Executive Committee of ECRI and its Education Fund is committed to doing better by identifying and challenging oppressive practices within our own work. Specifically, for the last several months, we have been working on securing resources, capacity, and funding to pursue a long overdue strategic planning process that centers equity and justice.

Strategic planning will allow us to establish a new vision for ECRI’s future, identify and dismantle oppressive practices within our coalition, formalize our anti-racist position, and center environmental justice. We know this will be hard and uncomfortable work, but without this intentional effort, we will continue to exclude people of color, youth, and other marginalized communities. As a coalition committed to protecting the health and environment of all Rhode Islanders, centering those most vulnerable to injustice must be our priority.

ECRI will begin preparing our anti-racist strategic planning process this summer with two goals. We will identify the organizational barriers that prevent frontline community members from engaging with ECRI, and we will organize anti-racism training to help our existing member base recognize and dismantle the racist practices embedded within our work. ECRI must lead by example, and by doing so, we will not only become a stronger coalition for the environment, but better amplify environmental action led by people of color.

Strategic planning is not enough to repair hundreds of years of racial inequity in Rhode Island, but we believe it is an actionable first step. By announcing this process, we do not expect a pat on the back, but to be held accountable for this work because there’s no climate justice without racial and social justice.


The Executive Committee (ExComm)

Environment Council of Rhode Island

P.S. Attend a Racial Equality: Virtual Groundwater Presentation online by the Racial Equity Institute hosted by the Rhode Island Foundation.

Read ECRI’s op-ed published in ecoRI news: Earth Day and Pandemic Remind Us of Need to Build Resilient Communities.

Watch the video recording of our annual meeting: Building Resilient & Equitable Communities After COVID-19.