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Environmental Justice Leadership Spotlight: Nancy Huizar

This article the first in the “EJC Spotlight” series – highlighting the backgrounds and work of current and former Environmental Justice Committee (EJC) members. Since 2017, the EJC has strived to uplift those most impacted by environmental inequities and center community needs in the City’s environmental efforts while building partnerships between community organizations and local government. This interview series is being conducted by Karen Bosshart, a UW Program on the Environment student and current intern at OSE.

Left to right: Kimela Vigil, Nancy Huizar, Sara Cubillos

Nancy Huizar has been a member of the Environmental Justice Committee since 2017. With an educational background in Aquatics and Fishery Sciences, Nancy has committed herself to serving her community through several local environmental organizations. She currently works as Climate Justice Organizer for Got Green and is the EJC’s Co-Chair.

What motivates you in your work in the environmental justice sphere?

I’m grounded in my mom’s story: she’s from the Philippines, where her family were farmers, and they decided to come to the US for the ‘American Dream.’ She started working and landed a job at the University of Washington, where she’s been working for the last 20 years. This whole time, she’s been living here in Beacon Hill, and when she first got here, she didn’t have asthma. Over time living here she developed the condition, and so did my brother. Looking at pollution sites in the area, and associated respiratory issues, this has been in my face for a long time. I connect it to environmental policy, and it’s really what grounds me in my work. So many other people have similar stories, and I work with the community so folks have the language to explain what’s happening to them.

What does environmental leadership look like to you?

I think about all of our intersectional issues and how folks participate in their own leadership capacity. At Got Green, we look at housing, food, transportation, and climate justice issues and how we, as activists, show up in those spaces looks different from person to person. Leadership can look like speaking up at big events, but it can also be starting conversations with the community about how the Green New Deal will impact them, for example, and figuring out how to share that information with community members. To me, it can take many different forms and doesn’t always look like people who are speaking out the most. Anybody can be a leader as long as they are passionate about their work!

How has your background prepared you for a leadership role within the EJC?

I’ve been doing environmental work since I was in high school, so I have the technical background, and understand the science behind it. When I’m talking to community members, having that background has been useful because I can scale mainstream language into what communities will strongly connect with. Jill, the executive director of Got Green, mentored me into the Environmental Justice Committee. When I first started, Jill was the main contact for the EJC and I was the mentee. In the second year, I became co-chair, and I think that happened because Got Green really rooted me in community organization work.

Can you share a highlight from your work with EJC in the past couple years?

I think the biggest highlight has been working on the pilot project in partnership with the Ethiopian Community in Seattle. The work was so meaningful to me because it showed that the City was willing to commit to place-keeping and invest in cultural hubs. I hope it’s something we can continue to do in the future!

What are you looking forward to in your next year with EJC?

I’m really excited for new beginnings; we have new staff and will have new committee members who’ll bring a different energy and structure to the work we do. I look forward to what other bigger, bolder projects we’ll work on together!