For far too long, foundations and philanthropists have entered the spaces they seek to serve with a misguided sense of belief that their stewarding of organizational resources is expertise. We’ve all seen it – CEOs, Boards and program staff feigning subject matter expertise and authority (for a myriad of reasons both within and without our own asks as a sector). They often cite the successes of other front line organizations they do not know and giants of liberation like Dr. Martin Luther King, quoting, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice…” and running with it as a disembodied mantra.

The arc does bend towards justice. However, that does not mean that any way we do this work will lead us there. This is not what was meant by Dr. King and it cannot be used by those doing this work to justify and codify the very practices we claim to be dismantling. We know that the successes we often cite when talking about projects and initiatives have grappled with scarcity, micromanaging and messinesses (a softer word for the “isms” when know are present) and were able to do what they did in spite of us – a truth that we need to grapple with as sector. This is especially true when it comes to organizations led by and for People of Color. Somehow, philanthropy – time and time again – fails to remember and believe that the people closest to the issues have the very solutions and ideas needed to better their communities with impacts that truly do lift all boats.


We are not here to invent liberation and justice –  we are here to resource those already doing it.


We are making a significant change to our environmental justice grantmaking, choosing to support and amplify solutions and projects already developed by frontline communities at the forefront of environmental change and all of its intersectional impacts. We aim to do this with as little systemic barriers as possible. As the guiding star of this shift in our environmental justice grantmaking, we wished to honor the “mother” of the environmental justice movement: Hazel M. Johnson, the namesake of these awards. A passionate environmental justice advocate from the 1970s until her death in 2011, Hazel M. Johnson fought for clean air and water on the South Side of Chicago, empowering, educating, and organizing her community in Altgeld Gardens and eventually founded the People for Community Recovery. She led national environmental justice movements and organized national protests demanding clean drinking water and the removal of asbestos from apartments.

Hers is a name that deserves to be widely known, respected and attributed for her work – something she would also want for the countless people and communities who continue to stand up, organize, advocate and fight for change against all odds in their communities.

When moving forward with our renewed commitment to do better, we fundamentally asked, “What would Hazel M. Johnson do?

The Award:

RPDFF – in partnership with the Environmental Grantmakers Association – is pleased to announce the inaugural recipients of the Hazel M. Johnson Environmental Justice Award.

These awards will provide seven community-based BIPOC-led environmental justice nonprofits working on vital environmental justice and social issues with three years of general operating support  – no strings attached.
These grants are:

      • A one time award.
      • 3 year general operating support
      • $75,000 per year ($225,000 total).

What makes them different?

      • There is no application process.
      • There are no reporting requirements.
      • We will offer grantees opportunities to strengthen their capacity building, operations, and narrative/storytelling with mutually beneficial learnings with the RPDFF team.

Why? Because we have been listening and learning from our frontline environmental justice partners and what they need from us is commitment to help in the most equitable and impactful ways we can.


Rise St. James

Rise St. James is a faith-based grassroots organization that is fighting for environmental justice as it works to defeat the proliferation of petrochemical industries in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Nicknamed “Cancer Alley” for the above-average rates of cancer there, the area is home to a high concentration of polluting industries. Despite this, the state has plans to expand this chemical corridor with dozens more factories. Led by Sharon Lavigne, 2021’s Goldman Environmental Prize winner, Rise St. James galvanized community opposition and successfully defeated the construction of a $1.25 billion plastics manufacturing plant in 2019. The group is currently fighting to prevent Formosa Plastics from building a massive multibillion-dollar plastics plant in the parish.



Pacoima Beautiful (PB)

Pacoima Beautiful (PB) was founded in 1996 by five relentless mothers who became distraught by the unpleasant sight of trash and toxic smells they endured while walking their young children to school. They knew that the only way to create a safer and cleaner community for their children and neighbors was through collective action, and so like good neighbors they joined forces to bring Pacoima some of its first major community clean-ups and tree planting events. The beautification projects of our founding mothers set the grassroots foundation that our historically women led organization has stood by for the past 25 years.



People’s Collective
For Environmental Justice

The People’s Collective For Environmental Justice are committed to fighting for environmental justice and challenging the cultural and systemic roots of white supremacy. Their purpose is rooted in historical struggle, to advance collective resistance and power; to support and fight against pollution, exploitation and existential threats to life – ultimately build for the health, wellbeing and self-reliance of the Inland Empire in a way that uproots white supremacy and the reigning hegemonic extractive systems.



Black Women for Wellness

Black Women for Wellness is committed to the health and well-being of Black women and girls through health education, empowerment and advocacy. Black Women for Wellness believes in the strength and wisdom of our community and allies. They believe that we have the solutions, resources and responsibility to create the shifts and change needed to impact our health status. Each of us must develop our personal power, hold accountable and support acknowledged leadership, and most importantly, contribute to our survival and growth as a community.



Lideres Campesina’s

Líderes Campesina’s principal goal is to form a network of communication throughout the state of California to promote the development of a united effort between campesinas and other groups who advocate the rights of the campesina community. Líderes Campesinas attempts to secure the progression of programs that help other campesinas discover their own capacity to be a leader and serve as a vehicle to guide them in the process of discovering their rights as a member of a family, local community, state, nation, and global community.



Mujeres de la Tierra

Mujeres de la Tierra inspires the healing of La Madre Tierra by working to build grassroots community leadership and capacity among historically unrecognized communities, especially with immigrants, and/or communities of color. They firmly believe in the power of one and their engagement efforts are created through a culturally relevant lens. They provide tools of empowerment by using facts, data, and science. They are connected to community through local residents’ input, platicas, listening sessions, and other means of interactive communication.



Front and Centered

Front and Centered envisions a Just Transition to a future where our communities and the earth are healed and thriving, our people have dignified work, and our government values, respects, and represents us. They are working for sovereignty and self-sufficiency for our communities so that future generations can thrive. They strive to make racial inequities on all issues a thing of the past, and to ensure that people of color and indigenous people are at the forefront of building equitable, democratic systems and policies that work for their communities. They are working for a future where all communities are healthy, safe, and resilient, and where everyone has equitable access to the building blocks of opportunity and prosperity like a healthy environment free from ecological destruction, affordable housing, and good careers based on safe work with livable wages.

We are extremely excited by the evolution of our environmental justice work and hope this change in approach will be meaningful and modeled behavior for our colleagues in the field of philanthropy. Frontline communities and organizations led by People of Color cannot continue to be ignored and under-resourced by philanthropy.

Our hope is that the creation of this award and the honoring of Hazel M. Johnson’s legacy as a pioneering Black woman can be the catalyst for other foundations to do more and to do better, especially for frontline organizations led by People of Color.

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