Communities Seeking Environmental Revitalization Prepare for White House Justice40 Investments
The newly introduced ReGenesis Institute provides a “learning hub” for communities that have been harmed by climate change and toxic pollution
Spartanburg, South Carolina (May 10, 2021) — As the White House unveils its widely anticipated plan for the Justice40 Initiative, the newly formed ReGenesis Institute, which leveraged a $20,000 EPA grant into $300 million in private and public investments for economic development, will announce on May 19 an alliance with frontline communities and financial industry partners to prepare for investments in housing, sustainable manufacturing, clean energy, and public health. With billions of dollars of potential funding coming down the pipeline, investors, philanthropists and lawmakers are eager to see community-led solution sets brought forward relying on distinct and credible metrics to evaluate investments in environmental and economic development.
“Improvements that have been made in distressed frontline communities like Spartanburg can guide other communities that face similar challenges,” said Executive Director of the ReGenesis Institute and a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council Harold Mitchell Jr. “But folks on the ground are normally left out of planning processes and there is no roadmap to help them. It will take a commitment to collective power and consensus-building to build the type of trust and respect needed to make the system work.”
The ReGenesis Institute, which is supported by the TomKat Foundation, provides a “learning hub” for communities that have been harmed by the toxic normalization and reach of environmental racism. As a part of this work, the ReGenesis Institute, Justice Capital and Full Spectrum Capital Partners will launch an environmental justice accelerator to scale projects led by frontline communities.
“”I have trust in Harold Mitchell because he comes from a place of love, and not ego,” said Kat Taylor Co-Founder of the TomKat Foundation. “Big donors, investors and policymakers can trust the ReGenesis Institute to guide them so that we are investing in a world where all can build wealth and live a good life.”
Building on Mitchell’s decades of work toward environmental justice in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) last week introduced the first proposal in the nation to create an oversight committee that will study opportunities and identify sites for investments in communities, such as food deserts, housing made unsafe by lead or disrepair, brownfield sites, and other impacted areas. The example of the South Carolina proposal could inspire other states to follow.
“The importance of connecting the dots on the wide-ranging impacts of environmental justice and having diverse voices engaged in that process is critical in the distribution of any federal funds aimed at addressing the issue,” said Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter. “Thanks to Harold’s leadership, South Carolina is poised to implement a plan to ensure that these affected communities benefit in a meaningful way from the Justice40 Initiative funding.
Spartanburg South Carolina’s environmental justice movement has a hard-fought and bi-partisan history that goes back 23 years. In 2007, then Rep. Mitchell introduced the States First Environmental Justice Bill that passed A171, a law creating the SC Environmental Justice Advisory Committee to study and consider the impact of state agencies’ policies and practices in economic development and revitalization on environment justice. Similar to today’s proposal, the advisory committee was tasked with identifying the status of programs and policies related to environmental justice within state agencies and recommending ways to maximize cooperation between these entities.
“This is the first time in my 54 years of the racial, social, and environmental justice movement that I have witnessed this kind of frontline grassroots input into the process at a White House level,” said Richard Moore one of the original planners of the First People of Color Summit and the First person to serve as Chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and currently serving as the Co-Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “It’s imperative that we take advantage of this opportunity that may never come again to use the Spartanburg model and methodology to replicate in other vulnerable communities, and move them from surviving to thriving.”
In Jan. 2019, Mitchell and Rep Cobb-Hunter pulled together frontline environmental justice leaders from the Equitable and Just Climate Platform and the Executive Committee of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators to discuss policies that would eventually find their way into the 2020 presidential debates and ultimately the White House infrastructure plan.
“Climate action is racial justice. Communities of color have been poisoned by living near toxic sites and factories with no accountability for their runoff. The Biden Administration’s plan to rebuild the country includes righting the systemic wrongs of environmental injustice. It’s necessary and long overdue,” said climate activist and NextGen America founder Tom Steyer. “But it can’t get done by the government alone. We need the private sector and investors to step up as well to help build a more equitable and sustainable future.”
Decades of discriminatory housing, financial and environmental policies disproportionately affect people of color leading to health disparities, disenfranchisement, and divestment. The promise by President Biden and Vice President Harris to ensure 40% of federal climate mitigation investments flow to disadvantaged communities is still largely undefined, but is quickly beginning to take shape.
As a part of her Good Life Pledge, launched in partnership with Full Spectrum Capital Partners, Taylor is supporting the ReGenesis Institute, which released a report that lays out a roadmap for how environmental justice and community revitalization successes were achieved.
“The ReGenesis Institute is a 21st Century model on how to combine economic benefits and environmental mitigation that builds power, wealth and tangible health benefits for the most vulnerable communities,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, Vice President of Environmental Justice, Climate, and Community Revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. “This provides an excellent blueprint that the Biden Administration could utilize in its critical work on environmental injustice, infrastructure and climate opportunities.”
Taylor has also pledged $1 million in donor-advised assets to obtain low-cost nonprofit bond financing to five community projects at various stages of their economic journeys as part of the Good Life Pledge with Full Spectrum Capital Partners: Inside Circle and Aspire Transformational Communities, Urban Tilth and Cooperation Richmond (Richmond, Calif.), the BIG We Foundation and Historic Clayborn Temple (Memphis), historic Allensworth’s economic renaissance (Allensworth, Calif,) and the Village at Friendship House (San Francisco).
“Black, Brown, Indigenous, and frontline communities are uniquely positioned to lead these investments and investors are rallying to align their capital into these more effective, efficient solutions that both deliver returns and unlock shared economic prosperity locally,” said Christina Hollenback, Founder of Justice Capital.
The May 19 Justice Capital and Full Spectrum Capital Partners online event, Scaling Justice, will address tough questions about what partnership and principles are key to implementing environmental justice investments, and will feature special guest speakers including Senior Director for Environmental Justice, Council on Environmental Quality Dr. Cecilia Martinez; member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and Executive Director of the ReGenesis Institute Harold Mitchell; Climate activist and NextGen America founder Tom Steyer; Impact Investor and Co-founder of the TomKat Foundation Kat Taylor; Impact Investor Andrea Zucker; Director of Newark Community Street Team Aqeela Sherrills; and Executive Director of Inside Circle Foundation Eldra Jackson III.