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Environmental Justice Leadership Spotlight: Abdullahi Jama

Abdullahi Jama is a current member of the EJC with a long history of advocacy and community building, in both his South Seattle East African community and in his home country of Somalia, where he previously taught Human Rights Law at the Somali National University. Abdullahi was a member of the Community Partner Steering Committee that led to the creation of the Equity & Environment Agenda.

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

In the past, I worked with the City Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, where I organized safe community conversations, and then I worked with other local nonprofit organizations. I jumped into the related field of environmental justice because I would like to represent the East African community here in South Seattle. I would like to help educate our youth, and encourage them to become environmental ambassadors, passing the torch on to them.

What does environmental leadership look like to you?

Environmental leadership means having a vision for what the healthy environment can be like in the future, and how to get there; that vision can then be applied to community work in a practical manner. An environmental leader must have the breadth of experience to work with a diverse group of people, and often this takes shape in the form of being a mentor, consultant, or policy advocate, to name a few, and especially in terms of EJC members.

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

I’ve been doing local advocacy work for the past 20 years, so I recognize my community’s need for environmental justice. I come from a country where environmental concerns present themselves differently; here in South Seattle, we see air pollution leading to asthma, and other health disparities associated with income levels. I see the effects of gentrification increasingly in my community, with people here being pushed out to South King County. If they can stay in this area, vulnerable populations like recent immigrants may find themselves agreeing to live in unhealthy conditions due to a lack of alternatives. What often happens is people end up in older, subpar housing that may be contaminated with mold or pests, and their possible lack of understanding their rights as renters may lead to being taken advantage of by their landlords. I see cases like this often and help people in these situations navigate City departments to find the resources they need. With a group of people who may have a harder time communicating their needs, those needs often go ignored and unmet, and in my work, I hope to change that.

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

We worked together to develop the Equity and Environment Agenda (EE Agenda), which gives the City an interdepartmental tool for building policy frameworks, connecting multiple groups within the city in their relationship to environmental concerns. We meet every month to come up with a plan or contributions toward the Office of Sustainability & Environment, to think about how we move forward. I’m excited that we’ve brought many other people of color into environmental work, as that has not always been the case. Last year, I was doing a lot of work here in Rainier Beach, where we’re trying to develop Rose Triangle with the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. We can see it being a community park area in the future.

What are you looking forward to in your next year’s work outside of the EJC?

In the next year, we hope that the EJC will accomplish its EE Agenda, and that it will be implemented fully. Some benefits would include improved transportation, housing, and health conditions in our communities. That is a big part of our mission, and all are related to policy work.

This article is part of the series: “EJC Spotlight”- 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.