Elizabeth Yeampierre

Executive Director, UPROSE

How old is your organization? 53 years old
What sector do you work in? Environmental justice
How long have you been working in this sector? 23 years
How long have you been with your current organization? 23 years

If you have worked with CRE in some capacity, what impact did it have?
CRE helped provide the foundation we needed for a successful 50th Anniversary Gala.

What has been the most significant development in your sector over the last 40 years?
The most significant development in the field of environmental justice has been the emergence of the urgency of climate change.

Describe a key event (local, national, global) that has impacted your sector in the last 40 years?
In the U.S. a key event was the signing of the Environmental Justice Executive Order and in New York State recently the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

How has communication—with staff, clients, and/or donors—changed over the course of the last 40 years?
The internet and social media have served to connect everyone and deepen understanding, analysis, and strategy.

How has the conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion shaped your organization since it was founded?
Our organization was founded and run by people of color in leadership and still is — the staff is more multi-national, multi-ethnic, but still led by people of color.

How have nonprofits’ priorities shifted in the last 40 years?
Many nonprofits have lost touch with the grassroots, follow funding and not vision, and have become empire builders at the expense of local concerns.

What is the single greatest challenge you face today in your sector?
Lots of new and emerging groups duplicating work, supplanting leadership, and helicoptering into communities of color make it more challenging for frontline-led groups to survive. No one is doing the landscaping necessary to find out where are the gaps, the needs, how can they complement the work being done instead of competing. People are into empire building instead of movement building.

Why did you join this sector?
I joined the environmental justice movement because I felt there was nothing more fundamental than the right to breathe — you can’t fight for social justice or social services if you have no breath.

In what ways would others say you are a trailblazer?
I am told I am a trailblazer because I fight for intergenerational frontline leader full community building, community-based planning, research and science, and believe resources and power must be distributed equitably.

Why did you want to become Executive Director?
UPROSE had lost all of its funding and needed someone to redirect the organization and bring it back to life. It was the oldest Puerto Rican organization in Brooklyn and it was a matter of pride.

What was your breakthrough moment in becoming a leader?
There have been many moments that have tested my resolve, but I have surrounded myself with dedicated, hardworking, smart people that believe in being leader full leadership comes from consistency and a willingness to grow in different and unexpected ways; this kind of environment has developed me as a leader.

What do you want your work culture to be like?
I strive to create a culture of practice that builds frontline led intergenerational leadership grounded in justice.

Please name three qualities that are inherent in being a strong leader.
Consistency, courage, clarity.

What are your organization’s values, and specifically leadership values, and how do you ensure everyone who is part of your team embraces them?
Our organization is dedicated to organizing and building at the intersection of racial justice and climate change. We follow the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing, and we work to build a just transition away from an extractive economy. Our staff works as a team and everyone exercises leadership and plays a meaningful role in decision-making.

Based on your experience, please offer one piece of advice to a person hoping to break through as a leader in your sector.
I would say this is not a career, this is a life, this is not a 9-5 thing because injustice isn’t 9-5 and climate change is inconvenient.

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