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environmental justice

LISTEN: Ogonnaya Dotson Newman on how philanthropy can support frontline communities

“The changing type of people that are in philanthropy … are helping build a bridge across [to communities].”

Ogonnaya Dotson Newman joins the Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast to discuss the changing landscape of philanthropy and how it can be a powerful tool for environmental justice.


Dotson Newman, a senior program officer in the environment program at The JPB Foundation, talks about her previous work in organizing and local government, how to center funding on organizations embedded in communities and her current love of different types of toast.

The Agents of Change in Environmental Justice podcast is a biweekly podcast featuring the stories and big ideas from past and present fellows, as well as others in the field. You can see all of the past episodes here.

Listen below to our discussion with Dotson Newman, and subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher.

Transcript

Brian Bienkowski

All right, I am here with Ogannaya Dotson Newman. Ogannaya, how are you doing this morning?

Ogonnaya Dotson

I'm okay. How are you?

Brian Bienkowski

I'm doing excellent. And where are you this morning?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Um, I am... We're still working remotely. So I'm in Brooklyn, Lenapehoking territory.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent

Ogonnaya Dotson

A little office nook area.

Brian Bienkowski

Yes. And I see a sign behind you that says "You are magic," which is good message.

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, it's my reminder for the people I Zoom with. I've been trying to remind myself like you exist, that is enough. So...

Brian Bienkowski

Yes. That is a excellent, excellent message.

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, it's a cool company. It's, I think it's a Black-woman-owned company. And I think she lives here in Brooklyn.

Brian Bienkowski

Very cool. Do you know the name of it?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Um, Radio and Honey, I think?

Brian Bienkowski

Great. Well, hopefully,

Ogonnaya Dotson

Sells a bunch of things.

Brian Bienkowski

Hopefully, listeners can go check that out. No, that's fine. So speaking of place, so you are originally from the Bay Area. And you came from, from what I've read, you came from a family that was embedded in community and environmental activism. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about this and how it shaped your career path?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, so um, I I'm from like, Bay Area adjacent. I don't, I claim the Bay Area culturally, like music, but I grew up just north of the Bay Area in a county called Sonoma County. As I joke sometimes with some of my friends, I tell them, I come from the streets of the wine country. So I think it's about like 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the part of the Bay Area that you're going to from where I grew up. And I think that because I spent a lot of time with my mom's side of the family that lived in Richmond, California. And Richmond, California is kind of like ground zero for EJ, um, work, I think sometimes, on the West Coast, because there's a huge oil refinery that kind of sits at the end, when you enter Richmond from the Richmond Panola Bridge. And that oil refinery kind of like I think sets the context or sets the stage for a number of different environmental issues. So my mother and father wanted us to know our extended family members.

And so my aunt, I would say, excuse me, although many like my grandfather, and my uncle and other folks were involved in this work, my aunt was the one who kind of like, really engaged me in a way. So basically, my mom would send me with her aunt to do different things she would take us to different protests. I think at the time, she was really involved in doing work in Richmond around environmental issues, which was an extension of her other activism that she had done around, kind of like she was the first person that I knew that talked about, like housing, access to water utilities as a human right. I think before that she had done some other work with my other aunt around like welfare reform, which was, which was, I think, an extension of the work that my grandfather had been doing in the community. And I think as far as I know, because all of this precedes my birth, my uncle at the time was kind of working in public health and doing things related but not in the same way.

So I think that is how I usually talk about how I got most engaged because basically I went to a, there's maybe a rally? I don't know, my memory is kind of foggy. But there's definitely a hearing of the California Air Resources Board that my aunt took me to where I was like, "Ooh, this is what it looks like when something speaks truth to power." And it was also a good I think, realization for me, because I had been taking like chemistry at the time. And I'm always thinking about how important it is to have abstract concepts that are usually taught in chemistry be applied. Because as she was talking, I was like, "Oh, I think I learned about that. I don't think that's like exactly the right thing that she was saying."

So I talked to her afterward. And she was like, "Oh, you understand this, you know a lot, you should come into this other meeting and talk to people!" And I think it was one of the first times to that I like, because I was kind of an annoying know-it-all child. So it was one of the times I was like, "Oh, these older people are listening to me. They're like, yeah," and I was using also the same like colloquialisms because that was my, like community or part of my extended community. So I think it made me realize, "oh, this is a thing I can do." Like I can use this information from science that I think is really interesting and kind of like talk about it with people that I love, identify with and care about. And so I think from there, it kind of just sent me on a path where I think initially, I wanted to be an environmental engineer. And then me and calculus had an initial meeting. I didn't have a ti 85 calculator. It was not a good match. I went back to the drawing board. I was like, "I'll just do like environmental education or something." I was kind of like, so I just studied, I think environmental science. I did end up passing calculus for the record.

Brian Bienkowski

So you've been in New York for some time now. Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, um, no, I, I've been having this conversation a lot. Because I think a few days ago, I realized it's been 16 years since I've been here. I will always be like a California girl, California person. And then I think I've, I have relationships with people who were like born and raised in New York. And sometimes I feel like they're trying to be nice to me. And they're like, "oh, yeah, you're like a New Yorker now." And I was like, "but am I?" So I feel like of this place. There's lots of things that I think I've taken on or that have taken over me, I guess, like, culturally that I find really interesting. And I find moving around the city very, I find it very comforting. And it's home. But I don't think I would call myself a New Yorker. I would call myself probably like a Californian, who's found a lot of comfort living on the East Coast and in New York, just because like, there are just some things about existing on the East Coast that are just different.

Brian Bienkowski

Yes, totally. And I want to talk about why some of your early work when you move there to New York. But first question I've been asking everybody is what is a defining moment that shaped your identity? And that is a big huge question. It can be personal, professional, whatever, whatever comes to mind.

Ogonnaya Dotson

I'm like my birth! I guess that was the first one. You know, I think that story. So there's a piece of the story that I left out that I usually tell people. Um, so now I guess more people will hear it. So I always joke, because about the time when my aunt took me to that hearing, because she was like, "come up here on the night, come and stand next to me." So I was like standing next to her. And a lot of these hearings, there's a real like, visual element sometimes. I don't know what happens, like I had a bunch of experiences, where you like are standing lower than the people who you're talking to on the board, right? So we're like, looking up at these people. And they're, she's like yelling, directing her very strategic rage – right? she also taught me like rage is necessary – She's like, "and you know, y'all have been allowing Chevron to like, pollute the community. And they're all these toxins. And my niece has jacked up teeth because of toxins." And I'm like, wait, what? did you just throw me under the EJ bus? Like, what? But that is also the beauty of like, I think, being a person who can understand like, she kinda threw me under the EJ bus, but like, that was not her intention. Her intention was to get this point.

And the most fascinating thing about that also is like she was... because I didn't grow up in that neighborhood. But what it was is that my mom, my grandmother, my grandparents kind of had been impacted by toxic chemicals for a long time. They also moved from a place, they moved from what is known as like Cancer Alley, Louisiana, to Richmond, my grandfather worked in like the shipping yards before they moved to this place called Porchester village. They live in this other place and my mom's told me stories about how they found out that the housing projects had kind of been built on this toxic dump. So there's this interesting, like, toxic legacy that I sometimes like talk about, because in environmental health issues, what I've realized is she was actually getting to the impact of toxic chemicals at the genetic level, which now is like a huge field of practice, like molecular epigenetics, right? And so to me, I'm like, if you need someone to explain to you epigenetics, I have to use that example.

And so to me, that was like a defining moment, in many ways, because like, you know, I mean, this is almost like 30, probably years later, I'm still interested, I'm still passionate about this work, I'm still very grateful for her impact on my life, and all of the other people that were deeply impactful around that. So I mean, it was really a defining moment. Also, it could mean that I have like a little bit of a type A personality, because I was like, "I'm gonna translate science within and for communities of color and low-income," like, I don't know, like, what 12 or 13 year old is, like, telling people that that's their, like, professional and personal mission, and then at what I'm, like, 41 now? I'm still like, "my mission is this, I'm just in a different part of the movement." I don't know why I'm using that voice. But

Brian Bienkowski

Well, you know, I've had people on here who have talked about having the, you know, some kind of environmental issues as part of their childhood. But it sounds like your aunt was bridging social issues. You mentioned housing. I mean, she was really looking at these intersectional issues. It's not just the environment, it's it's all the way down the line, which I think what a fantastic grounding for the kind of work that you've ended up going into.

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, it was. And I think, you know, fortunately, or unfortunately, when you're in therapy, you're like, “Oh, let me just think about this one moment.” And I'm like, Oh, I had all these like, environmental like things that very much shaped how I think about the work. But I also think that the most important thing that I took away from that, and really resonated with me, is like she was talking about environmental conditions in relationship to how people live their lives. And I think, you know, sometimes in my professional life, I'll have conversations with people who are talking about things as like separate silos, and my brain starts to just melt when that happens – I'm like that little new emoji. I'll be like, I don't understand they kept talking about this thing, just as like, singular. And do I not get it? Am I not accepting it? But I, you know, I think finding ways to recognize and acknowledge the way that people actually live their lives can be very helpful for coming up with I think, then more complex solutions, because, you know, oftentimes, if you only solve for one thing, in an interconnected space, you create probably like 153 other things. 153 unintended consequences. So yeah.

Brian Bienkowski

And speaking of this, this impact, it sounds like so you were previously at WEACT for Environmental Justice. And I think anybody who's aware of the environmental justice movement, and things that are going on, are aware of that organization. And it seems like that position was kind of pivotal in your early career development. So I was just kind of wondering if you could talk about what you learned working for that, you know, grassroots environmental justice organization, specifically as it relates to healthy housing?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, okay. So I learned everything and a lot. I learned a lot about myself. I also learned a lot about like how the world works and how change works, which I think can be very interesting. I learned a lot about how policies are made, how community organizing campaigns are built, interpersonal dynamics, I think everything that you probably can or want to learn or sometimes don't want to learn, you learn at a job like that.

And then the other thing that I think was really interesting about the healthy housing work is I think it's I think a lot of my time at WEACT also cemented my belief system around kind of like the interconnectedness of environmental issues. And most important is because I always have this joke about being an environmentalist is one of my identities. And I always say, you know, a lot of my friends, like, sometimes get annoyed about my environmentalism stuff, or maybe don't talk to me about it as much, but they always enter into environmental issues through two areas. One of them is like personal care products. Most of them were just in annoyed because I had a natural deodorant phase that you know, had some trials and tribulations. And then, so if anybody needs natural deodorant recommendations. And then the second one is through housing, because housing, oftentimes, I argue, is a public health intervention and a social justice and just like social intervention that is so powerful. But oftentimes, it's like exempted from environmental health, or people don't think about it in that way.

But, you know, you spend so much time in your home or, I mean, I think the pandemic, I think, has raised the awareness of people around this in so many ways, because like, it's your... we used to have this diagram that I think, the woman that I actually initially talked to about the position at WEACT, even though I was applying for another job, I think she had created it was, her name is Swati, and so it showed like the individual home environment, and then it showed like for New York City, quite a few people live in buildings. So it shows like your apartment building, then it shows, you know, it was very interesting to learn about like the block by block kind of like environment, right. So then you have your block, and then you have your neighborhood. And then you have your like, broader community. And oftentimes, you know, you can do cross-class, cross-cultural, cross-all-types-of-things that usually stop us from engaging each other in relationships and housing. And there are like lots of examples about that. And, you know, you look at the principles of environmental justice, and there's like a component about housing. So I think just like really understanding what an intervention housing can be.

And like, and you see it, because the thing is like, I got into this work, because I knew and understood that some of the wins that may occur, I'm not going to see in my lifetime, right? Like, you have to be, I feel like I'm going to answer all your future questions, like you have to be very hopeful in my mind to be a part of the environmental justice movement, even if it doesn't sound like your traditional hope, right? And I think that to be hopeful is understanding that you have invested your life in work where you will probably not see the results of some of that work in your lifetime in your children's lifetime, or those children's children's lifetime.

So I think that was the thing that really has been impactful to me about my time at WEACT. I mean, I met wonderful people there. You know, the interesting thing about the health and housing work at WEACT is that it was one of the areas where... because there's quite a bit of work that we're doing or well, and by we I mean the organization, but mostly one of the kind of like community health workers organizers that were working most directly with some of the members, and the work that they would do, you can see very immediate results, because sometimes they were working with people to like solve housing issues. And then we also participated in like coalitions who were also going to have more long term or medium impacts. And the work went in waves.

So there was like a healthy housing campaign that related to lead before I got to WEACT many years in its history; there's a whole set of our body of work that we did related to healthy homes, and especially related, like some of it was related to garbage and recycling, and then some of it was also related to lead, we did like lead dust wipe sampling, like video; And it was just really interesting to see the impact on individuals when they would be able to advocate and actually get a change or an improvement in their housing. And it's fascinating, because, you know, there's so much information that I consider to be environmental health information that I generally use when I'm looking for an apartment, and my dad would always says you know, I think this could be a business for you. But and and also that resulted in some of the kind of like information or educational materials that were developed among a number of different times that we act and sometimes that were the result of the community-academic partnerships, which was the main part of my job when I was at WEACT, which was kind of funny because I was talking to a friend of mine recently and she was like, "Yeah, remember when you were like an event planner at that environmental organization?" I was like, "that was not my job, but I can understand how you now believe that" because we planned like healthy homes, conferences, we planed talks, we would plan sometimes toxic and treasures to or as, we would do programs with young people.

One of the most interesting projects that I think we did that relates to housing was really understanding more about the nuanced relationship between tenants, the management company and really the staff that work together to like keep buildings up. And those are like the supers, porters, handy people, I'm sure there's a bunch of other names. And it was fascinating because we did this Photovoice project. And Photovoice is like a qualitative research method where you kind of ask folks questions, you have them take pictures, they explain things around the pictures. And so, you know, initially when we had been talking to folks, they're just like, "the supers are lazy, they're just not cleaning out the garbage disposal room or whatever." And then we were like, what? my mind is like, "something doesn't sound right." And then... and that was coming kind of from the management sometimes and the actual residents. And then we would talk to the supers and learn more about like, what their, what their requirements were that they had; how many people in some of the buildings they had working, per people living there. So a lot of times the ratios are just completely out of whack. And how, in some ways, the supers were this like, were at the center of a lot of people's rage and became the villains. And when you often talk to them, you learned about a) all the things that people put down trash schuts, which was fascinating... All the ways in which people want to, you know, very quickly blame, you know, someone else when you're like, "who did this?!" and then you point to yourself. And then all the ways in which, you know, I guess in some ways, capitalism is not helpful at allowing businesses to think about profit, or think about money in a way that allows people to be treated as their, their full selves. And I think in some ways, right, like, sets people up for success. Because dealing with garbage is pretty challenging. Yeah, I assume you have to have a lot of hope to do that job too. So yeah, it was really, and I think it speaks to the larger issues too, around garbage and sanitation issues that come up. Because, you know, there are many parts of the kind of waste system in which people are scapegoated. And you know, the solution is around all this, like individual kind of like, actions, when really, the system is broken. And a lot of it is fueled just by like, you know, too much stuff. And, you know, the idea that people think that they can throw things away.

Brian Bienkowski

and you stuck with stuck working in housing after that, as the assistant director of public housing and health for the New York City Housing Authority, and City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that is a mouthful. So I'm wondering, now you're at JPB. So why the career move to philanthropy?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yes. So um, this is actually on take me back to my WEACT. So I started working at WEACT, I worked for WEACT from like, 2008, to late 2015. And so the thing about myself as a young person is, you know, I talked about my focus. So there's one question –WEACT was fascinating. They had this group interview process. So once you met, like, the executive director, and the Deputy Director, they send you in to meet with the whole staff, which is, you know, kind of a wild concept, but also like, a very innovative way to interview people. So someone was like, "you know, what is your plan?" And I was like, "Oh, I have a 15 year plan," I get really excited about plans, like loose ones. And I was like, "I will work five years at a nonprofit. I will work five years at local government. And I will work five years in philanthropy." And at the end of this 15 year cycle, I will come back and be the executive director of an organization like WEACT. Two years in, I was like, do I really want to be an executive director? And it's funny, right? Because I've come to the end of that 15 year cycle. And I end, I mean, at the end of the 15 years, like I'm in philanthropy, and I think it was just like really the idea of understanding kind of like, how these components those are the kind of like three huge components that I saw is really important in making change within the environmental justice kind of like ecosystem. So that was... so in theory, like philanthropy, and local government fit, but as we all know, when you're looking for a job or trying to figure out what your next role is from whatever your current role is, you just never know where you might end up.

And so the job at the Housing Authority and the Department of Health, that's kind of an easier way to say it was an interesting experiment, because it was one of the first times where they tried to have a line item, or like, you know, a salary line for someone who would work in between both agencies and really learn about what was happening between both agencies related to housing and health. And there's a ton of stuff actually going on that I think a lot of people sometimes just didn't know about, because I mean, they're two huge agencies. And then I think, for me, I had these grand dreams that were not really at the scale of where I was, like, oh, you know, what would happen? Or how interesting would it be, if housing authorities or even people that you know, manage, develop, build housing thought of themselves as part of the public health system? because essentially, they are, because you know, you can change somebody's housing environment and see immediate, like, psychosocial impacts. And it's, to me, I think, every time I see more and more evidence of it, it's fascinating.

And I mean, I've also experienced it in my personal life, because I was reflecting on the apartment that I grew up in, it was really raining where we were in the winter, and I had some type of allergy or allergic reaction to mold, and my walls would kind of mold every winter. So I was like... So I'm like, you know, it's so fascinating, because I realized, like, for winters for many years, I just used to sleep like kind of in the living room, my parents would kind of we would work together to clean the wall, probably using not the right practices. But I think that also helped me to ground me in like, what is this work for? What is the practical aspect of it? How do I keep from getting, you know, kind of like, in the esoteric realm, and I think, you know, a lot of these experiences that I've talked to you about, like, are always very close to me, because they remind me about, you know, what this is all about. Because I think also, when you're many steps away from some of that work, and philanthropies even more steps away than like the local government or even working at WeAct. You know, it's like a constant reminder, because sometimes I'll be like, do I want to just like stop all this and like, you know, become an Instagram influencer? Not that there's anything wrong with it. I want to make like a significant shift. Like, do I just want to like work on a beach and have a cafe that's open from 2 to 3pm? Where I just serve like bougie toast? Who knows? Maybe one day I'll do that, but for now.

Brian Bienkowski

That's the next 15 year plan. Yeah.

Ogonnaya Dotson

How can my bougie toast serve the environmental justice movement? Maybe that's the question I should be asking myself.

Brian Bienkowski

So I think I was reading a paper you co authored, and I thought it was a nice way to frame some of the philanthropy work you're doing. So it talked about the importance of frontline organizations for communities, but how they're consistently neglected by funders. So it's wondering if you could first just kind of for listeners, explain what you mean by a frontline organization? And maybe some examples of how they are essential for communities and what can and should be done to make sure they're getting funding?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah. Oh, wow. I mean, I saw this question. I thought, "Wow, that's a tough question." And I'm still sitting here thinking of the answer. But, um, you know, we, I think we, when we were thinking of, like language to use for the article, I think we were trying to come up with a term that would really encapsulate organizations that oftentimes don't get as much funding. And so often times when we're talking about frontline communities, I mean, it is like a physical description. These communities are all on the frontline of different things. Yeah, these communities like Mossville in Louisiana, it is on the front line, meaning like, the literal neighborhood is like people living in houses on one side and then a company, like, with this huge toxic impact on the other side. You have folks working in coastal areas like Alaska or other places where because of like, bioaccumulation, how things work, they are literally at the front line of understanding higher concentrations of pollution that gets cycled up into their community because of the thermal hailing cycle in the ocean, right? They're also at their front line of seeing how erosion from, you know a warming ocean and different like wave action, can like take away land. So it is it is actual like terminology that is linked to organizations, right? That describes many of these communities who are living sometimes will you spend slime, or like, you know, in pretty close geographic proximity to pollution.

And then sometimes, and in some ways, like you've seen a lots of language that people use to describe their community. So it's not an end-all-be-all term, we wanted to provide people also with a clearer understanding of organizations that are working in direct relationship with the communities and, you know, many frontline organizations are working within the community that they're fighting for. Versus, you know, sometimes you have other types of organizations that just aren't physically based in the community that they're working toward. And so there's just a level of understanding about the cultural, political, historical nuances of the work that happens there.

And so the idea of the article was to, you know, call our philanthropy colleagues in, call ourselves in, to reminding us what we need to do in funding, right? because the other thing is like... Philanthropy, sometimes we forget about the history of, or the genesis of things, which deeply impact how they exist in the present. And so, um, you know, I often also believe that people will kind of function in what is most comfortable or familiar with them. And so, this probably relates a little bit to a future question. You know, I think that changing kind of like types of people that are in philanthropy also influences different types of decisions that are made, because essentially, you have people that no one understand or at least more comfortable with the different ways in which people are doing their work, and often operate, sometimes as a translator, I love the, like, a doula; They're helping to build a bridge across. Because you know, you need funding to do work, or resources, and so oftentimes, there is a huge gap in that, because especially like, I always joke about, like, there's this word mess – I feel like this came from my grandparents – So like, every... I always say, like, everybody has different types of mess, or like people are mostly generally also all a hot mess. It's just like, what hot mess are you most comfortable with? And how can you build some equity and parity into understanding how to engage that mess? And in many times, right? I want to fund or I work at an organization, and part of the strategy for my portfolio is like, you know, I want to fund everyone, I'm not just going to pick one type of mess, because it's more familiar with me. And so I think, you know, having a diversity of people and thought, and allowing and trusting those folks to find and identify different types of organizations that work within the parameters of any foundation that you're working at, is helpful. And you're starting to see, I think, some of the results of that, but there's still more work to do, lots more work to do. And then the other thing that I'll add is many times these organizations, they understand and actually have solutions that sometimes get co-opted by bigger organizations. But also in many of the cases of disaster, and just like things that have happened, the evidence, and the proof is in the work that they've done. You see it in so many places. And I think there's like also a very interesting discussion that's happening because I think we're at a tension point currently in our society, which like really reflects this.

Brian Bienkowski

So I was wondering, what is one thing or maybe a couple of things that you would want environmental justice researchers, activist organizations to know about that world, the philanthropy world?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Um, I often tell people Well, I haven't, I mean, I think I'm still trying to figure it out. The other thing that I tell people is that I mean, I don't know if this is helpful or not, but I often approached them... I'm like, in the same way as if you have an organizing strategy around like a target for you know, a pollution company or something, you should have that same strategy and ways of building relationship with folks that work in philanthropy, while still, you know, recognizing acknowledging all the power dynamics.

And that in some cases, too, and I don't know, I feel like my advice is like, "everybody knows that," you know, like forming a relationship with your program officer. And also, sometimes working with that program officer, program director in harmony, to figure out like, what a long term strategy for funding may be. I do think that that comes with, like, so many caveats. And also, you know, the other thing that comes up is how people recognize... how people recognize their positional power, versus how people external to it. So, you know, there are a lot of things that sometimes a program officer thinks that they might be able to do, but then the board or whoever, wherever they are in the hierarchy, they may not be able to do what they thought. And so I generally try to operate with as much honesty and transparency as possible, which I feel like can be very scary. And I'm still sometimes learning the balance of information that should and shouldn't be shared. But I think that is something that a lot of people sometimes are curious about. And so I do that.

The other thing is, I generally just want, like talking to people about... at least having a conversation around the way they understand philanthropy in the way I understand it. Because sometimes we both are learning together. And then like some of the like mystification of philanthropy, I think, too, is sometimes like by design? Which feels like a weird thing to say, anyway, you know, folks will be like, "Oh, I went on the website," and I'll be like, "but some of these websites don't have any information on them" because like, you know, in the same way, that folks, I think externals of philanthropy, are working on all of their stuff and figuring out how to approach I think, sometimes people in philanthropy too, they're working on or maybe need to be working on some of their stuff about why there are barriers or why, you know, some of some of the things that can come up that create challenges for pairing people who have resources with folks who want those resources. Because even sometimes that comes up for us, probably like, why are people acting like this? Oh, I'm connected to resources. Like, don't forget about that, just because I don't necessarily personally feel like I have so much positional power, like there is power there, and I can't run away from it.

Brian Bienkowski

So what are you hopeful about? What are you optimistic about? When it comes to the environmental justice movement to projects you're seeing to community organizations, you're seeing what gives you hope?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Yeah, I think every time I see an organization, kind of like win something or they introduced me to a new framework, I get really excited. I think I'm very fascinated by folks who have been working for a long time to talk to get, like scientists and other folks to understand the interconnectedness, but it feels like there's a root movement and understanding issues from a systems approach. And I think a lot of folks who have been working in environmental justice for a long time have been pushing for that. Have been pushing for governments to for government to understand that, have been pushing for the entities that fund researchers to understand that, so they fund research, while also the researchers to do that.

And then, you know, it is really interesting and fascinating to see how people who are stepping into leadership are thinking about this, talking about this, and really figuring out ways to move forward. So to me, I think I'm most hopeful when I see the like kind of global interactions between folks using different strategies for engaging, striking, holding folks accountable, thinking about different types of innovative materials that you can use that will help improve people's health. And then finally, like, I don't know, I just really appreciate all of the folks within the movement that I think have also like nurtured me but nurtured other people who now may find themselves in a different spot in the movement but are tapping into and working through stuff like trying to move more money to frontline or grassroots organizations like that – I mean, I'm a byproduct of that advocacy in that work. Like the fact that there's a position... we have another, I have a colleague, her portfolios are all environmental justice, like the fact that there are programs like that. And then people are really trying to think strategically about how to ensure that those programs don't go away like in the near future. Because one of my interesting critiques oftentimes of my work, and other work, especially if I'm asking questions around like outputs is like "Ogonnaya, you're asking some of these questions around outputs, but like, can one really, like undo systemic oppression over three years, with $200,000 a year, even though it took 400 years and like billions of dollars to get us here?" no! So I appreciate that, I guess, you know, sometimes I'm able to be more realistic about the outcomes and approaches. And there's lots of people who make commentary on this. So that, I think, makes me feel hopeful, inherently.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent. And I think it's important I know, as having worked in journalism, and done a lot of environmental justice journalism, it's good to celebrate the small victories because there is this long view that you talked about earlier, and things don't change overnight. So I really appreciate that perspective. So Ogonnaya, this has been fantastic to hear about your work. I have three quick questions for you, fun questions, maybe not so fun, as you told me before we started. And then a final question. So you can answer with one word or a phrase if you'd like. The first one is your go to guilty TV show or movie?

Ogonnaya Dotson

Okay, so, oh, there's not one. I'm very, um, I am a sucker for like reality television. Like almost all categories of reality TV, I've been watching for so long. So like, and I always make jokes – I'm like, "I have learned so much from reality TV." I'm like, "I'd rather deal with that drama than the drama that I see on Capitol Hill that like, actually, that's my life." Like, their drama. It's like, it's so much like this drama. I'm like, oh, it's like them and their three friends in like some Balenciaga store and they're just like making fun of themselves. But like these people like actually brought the drama and now like, I made a habit right to healthcare. That's why that seems very

Brian Bienkowski

That reality show on CNN at night is way more depressing. No. It's very true. So here's the question that you were super excited about. Yankees, Mets, or who cares?

Ogonnaya Dotson

You know? Yeah, the Giants the A's. Forever. Like bear teams. The Warriors go. I mean, I'll go to a game but generally I'm not super into baseball.

Brian Bienkowski

Gotcha. And last, your favorite thing to cook.

Ogonnaya Dotson

I love cooking. Right now I'm really into like toast. I made this toast over the weekend. It had like, pesto, ricotta, sauteed peas, a runny egg and hot sauce. I love bougie toss. It's like so good.

Brian Bienkowski

That sounds fantastic. My wife and I just traded... We have a seed farm where we save seeds. And we just traded some seeds for rose hip jam or jelly I think. And I had never had it before. It is delightful. It is so good. I had some on toast the other day.

Ogonnaya Dotson

Does it taste like roses? roses confused me.

Brian Bienkowski

Yeah. It confuses me, too. It's whatever it is, it's subtle. And it's obviously, as a jam, it's kind of sweet. So I should, I should dig into it more. But it's fantastic. So Ogonnaya, the last question I have for you is what is the last book that you read for fun?

Ogonnaya Dotson

That's so interesting. I actually read my friend's book for fun. Love it. It's an amazing book. And it is based here in New York is called Stories of Gabriel, by Esther Alex. And the stories are like so vivid and colorful. And it really is a sad story. But the way that she brings the characters together and they all kind of like talk about this one incident and you get to see perspectives from different characters. That's amazing.

Brian Bienkowski

Excellent, I will definitely check that out. And thank you so much for taking time today. It was so interesting to learn about your work. You're the first person working in philanthropy on the podcast, so I really appreciate your time today.

Ogonnaya Dotson

Okay, thanks. It's been great chatting with you.

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