As we celebrate women activists leading the environmental justice movement in Detroit, we were honored to sit down with Monica Lewis-Patrick (aka The Water Warrior) who gloried in the impact of those who have and continue to birth a brighter day for present and future generations.

Q: What prompted you to become a champion for environmental justice?

I give credit to Mama Rhonda Anderson who is an environmental justice organizer at the Sierra Club. I remember voicing my dissent about why I should care about environmental justice when my people are out here fighting for our lives. Mama Rhonda turned to me and told me that I could not be a good social justice activist if I would not recognize the connectivity between the health and welfare of the people and that of the planet.

I also give thanks to my grandmother who was a no-nonsense community member who once interrupted a meeting of city officials to demand that she be given the keys to a pool after it had been shut down.  She then ran that pool for years ensuring that children in the neighborhood had a place where they could swim even though she couldn’t. It was this fire that impressed upon me and my mother. I learned early on the importance of community organizing because I benefited from the work of the women who had come before me.

Q: What role have women played in fighting for the health and wellness of Detroit’s most impacted communities?

Oh, the list is so great! Nevertheless, I have to lift up the following:

  • Rev. Dr. JoAnn Watson who created the green taskforce for food distribution and helped to birth the Office of Sustainability ushering in the first water affordability plan;
  • Donele Wilkins who you simply cannot talk about environmental justice in Detroit without saying her name;
  • Charity Hicks who labored in connecting the importance of food and water on a national and international level;
  • Dr. Gloria House (aka Mama Aneb) who helped to translate the importance of civic engagement on a scholarly level while ensuring that the work remained at a grassroots level;
  • Donna Givens Davidson who works to ensure that a thriving community exists on the East Side;
  • Mama Hanifah who is dedicated to ensuring that our babies are educated in the art of farming;
  • Tawanna Petty who embodies the difference between doing art and being art as an expert in antiracism and digital justice;
  • Martina Guzmánwho uses her voice to amplify environmental justice issues happening across the city; and
  • Gwen Winston who connects Black women and Black womanhood to water justice.

Q: What advice would you share with younger advocates in the EJ movement?

I would tell them to identify a mentor or two; someone that is operating in this movement whose work they admire and whose values are demonstrated in leadership. This relationship must also include honest conversations about the dysfunctions that exist in organizing so that they can effectively navigate through challenges which may seem to only be directed at them.

Ultimately, in order to see change, they must deputize themselves. Nobody is coming to save us. Collectively, we are the ones that we have been waiting on.

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