Athens gains a more powerful advocate for environmental justice

Tawana Mattox (center) and resident leaders for the West Broad Sustainability Project (left to right) Gloria Moses, Ethel Collins, Willie Thomas, and Shirley Tillman at the Green Life Awards ceremony in February, 2020.

Tawana Mattox has a doctorate in educational leadership and is a member of the local board of education. Even so, she’s back in school to sharpen and deepen her advocacy skills for environmental justice at the community level. Dr. Mattox, who is ALT’s Director of Education & Empowerment, is part of the 2021 class of the Partnership for Southern Equity’s (PSE) Just Energy Academy (JEA). The class aims to develop advocacy skills so that participants can become more effective energy equity and climate justice leaders in their communities. PSE is an Atlanta based nonprofit that promotes racial equity and shared prosperity for communities in the South.

“Energy equity” and “climate justice” refer to the fact that low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to suffer from environmental hazards than are white and higher income communities. The terms also refer to efforts to improve conditions and fairly share benefits and burdens.

Mattox is already a local leader on these issues, one who is passionate about sharing her knowledge and developing other community leaders. Take ALT’s West Broad Sustainability Project, for example. Through this project, residents of the historically Black, gentrifying West Broad neighborhood identified environmental challenges such as flooding, poor household insulation, inefficient appliances, high energy costs, plumbing issues, and hazardous tree canopy.

The residents then engaged with local government to tackle these challenges—with tangible results: 15 homes are more energy efficient; three churches have audited energy usage and made repairs; 18 water-related projects have been completed; 20 hazardous trees have been pruned or removed; and 10 new native trees have been planted.

So why is Mattox “back in school” for environmental justice leadership?

“The work I’m already doing has propelled me to do more and learn more about the racial and socioeconomic inequalities that are prevalent [in Athens], about the history of these inequalities, and about energy policy and climate change,” says Mattox. “To do more, I need to be a scholar in this area.”

When Mattox graduates from the JEA later this year, Athens will not just gain one more better prepared leader, but someone who is passionate about inspiring others in our community to become leaders for energy equity and climate justice.