Trio of local journalism collaboratives selected to tackle environmental justice issues

Release Date: 4.29.2021

CLEVELAND –Black Environmental Leaders (BEL) – in partnership with The Center for Community Solutions, Cleveland Foundation and The George Gund Foundation – today announced $30,000 in journalism grants to support environmental justice reporting projects. As has been made all-too-clear over the past year, COVID-19 has laid bare the disproportionate impacts experienced by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, according to data from the CDC analyzed by the New York Times.

Each of the three collaboratives received $10,000 to leverage the power of the Greater Cleveland news ecosystem to spotlight environmental justice narratives, stories and solutions led by BIPOC leaders, organizations and residents. An additional aim of this commitment is to continue the spirit of collaboration in Northeast Ohio’s evolving information ecosystem.

The projects included in the environmental justice cohort are:

  • Ask The Land Environmental Reporting Initiative (Collaborative NewsLab @ Kent State University, The Land, Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, ideastream, WKSU, La Mega Media): The collaborative will utilize two-way texting to give voice to underrepresented communities in shaping local news coverage. Through relationships with neighborhood-based organizations and other community partners, Ask The Land will recruit neighborhood residents to enroll in texting conversations, source environmental justice stories directly from these communities at the grassroots level, provide local news coverage about environmental issues for residents and stakeholders in these communities in an easily accessible way, and provide members of the community with a place to ask questions and seek support and advice about the environmental justice and equity issues that affect them.
  • Forming an Emerald Necklace (A Greater Buckeye, Korey Smerk, Black Valve Media, Cleveland Documenters): The collaborative will produce a series of weekly short features over the course of 12 weeks that will culminate in a documentary highlighting the environmental struggles and resiliency of the Buckeye-Woodland and Buckeye-Shaker neighborhoods. These shorts will primarily feature work creating greenspaces of all sizes, addressing food apartheid, reducing invisible boundaries, as well as connecting with initiatives outside of the neighborhood that address environmental issues.
  • Healing Spaces (Cleveland Documenters, Neighborhood Connections, Black Girl Media, WOVU, A Greater Buckeye): The collaborative will utilize Cleveland Documenters to talk with community leaders who have activated vacant land in their neighborhoods and, by doing so, tended to their community’s need for beautiful spaces that feed the soul. This project will be done in three phases: a listening survey; reporting; and transformation. Cleveland Documenters will begin by surveying their neighbors, Neighbor Up members and other Cleveland residents about their environmental justice concerns. A team of Cleveland Documenters will then conduct video interviews with community gardeners talking about their work and its history, successes and challenges, and what the future holds. They will also take the learnings from the surveys and transform a vacant lot into a vibrant community space; they will share videos, talkbacks, and other communications from this space as well as others throughout the summer via publishing partner A Greater Buckeye and with media partner WOVU. The project will close with the showing of a short documentary in the fall.

“The advocacy and leadership of Mayor Carl Stokes and Representative Louis Stokes elevated environmental justice to the policy arena on a national level,” said SeMia Bray, BEL co-facilitator. “Amidst the recent heightened awareness and nationwide protests around the extent and depth of our nation’s racist history and enduring barriers – most acutely to the Black community’s health, prosperity, and basic safety – immediate and sustained action is needed, and we see the work of these collaboratives as a positive step in that direction.”

The priorities of this round of grantmaking were to:

  • Create topic-based collaborative journalism projects that respond to community information needs around environmental disparities and one or more of The Principles of Environmental Justice, Principles of Climate Justice and/or Principles of the Youth Environmental Justice Movement and explore and elevate solutions to those needs;
  • Engage partnerships that represent new, non-traditional collaborations where all parties are able to equitably contribute as capacity allows to get information in the hands of those who need it;
  • Identify partners that will contribute to a deeper understanding of and commitment to climate, land, water, air, transportation and energy issues that impact quality of life, through the lens of health, equity and racial justice;
  • Encourage media outlets to explore the strengths and resources already present in the region, especially among BIPOC and other marginalized groups, and to build trust among these communities; and
  • Conduct restorative journalism that reframes community narratives to spotlight resident resilience and neighborhood progress, lifting up perspectives that are often not reflected in the traditional news media (solutions-based journalism).

The collaborative efforts are expected to continue over the next six months.

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