Our Journey with JEDI

Current Status: The Alabama Rivers Alliance Board of Directors currently is made up of 3 people of color, 6 women, 5 men. The ARA staff consists of 6 people: 3 female, 2 male and 1 genderqueer. The staff’s ages span across generations with: 1 Gen Z, 2 Gen Y, 2 Gen X and 1 Baby Boomer.


The Alabama Rivers Alliance has made great progress both internally and externally in recent years toward becoming an organization that reflects the people of Alabama and one that works to address the water needs of the communities of Alabama, but we still have a long way to go and we continue to work each day. This year, our Board, Staff and Young Professionals will participate in an anti-racism training and we are excited to offer this training at our annual Alabama Water Rally as well. We are also updating our personnel policies to ensure they are inclusive and non-discriminatory and updating our website to ensure that it reflects our organization and our movement as it is today. Our latest strategic plan, developed in 2023, incorporates diversifying our movement and working more closely with historically marginalized communities as key priorities.

One of the most difficult questions for us to grapple with in this work to become a more just, equitable, diverse and inclusive organization is why are we not yet there. For more than two decades, our organization has recognized the importance of partnering with community-based organizations and other nonprofits working at the intersection of social justice, economic justice, and environmental justice to make Alabama better.

In the early 2000s, our staff participated in extensive intersectional leadership development training and were active in advocating for issues that are not directly related to the environment, but directly affect all Alabamians, such as the effort to reform our state’s constitution that is rooted in disenfranchising black people and poor people. We have been an organizational member of Alabama Arise and active members of multiple diverse coalitions such as The Poor People’s Campaign for many years.  

While these activities are important and helped us develop strong partnerships and external relationships, they did not result in a more diverse, inclusive internal leadership for our organization. They were not transforming our organization or our movement in a meaningful way. In other words, they were not enough.

As our national partners at River Network and others began working on their own JEDI journeys, and sharing their experiences and learnings openly with their members, we recognized that we were only doing half the work – the external work. We needed to do some serious internal reflection and work to truly understand and transform our organization for the right reasons and in a meaningful and lasting way.  

Below are steps that we have taken as a staff and a board over the last several years and the outcomes we are seeing today from this work:

  • We began talking about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our strategic planning process in 2015 and incorporated a written objective to do the internal work we needed to do.
  • We began work to meaningfully diversify our board by strategically cultivating relationships with people of color who were already connected to our organization in some way.
  • In 2020, our staff dedicated every Friday morning over several months to read and collectively work through the chapters and discussions of the book by Layla F. Saad
    Me and White Supremacy. This helped us begin to acknowledge our unconscious biases and better understand how white privilege and white supremacy play out in our own lives and in our work.
  • In 2021, we formed a JEDI committee of our Board and Junior Board to begin working through some of these complex topics with the leadership of our organization and we held a DEI training for our Board of Directors.
  • Also in 2021, we invited two people of color to our Board of Directors. Both accepted and as of 2023, they are serving as President and Vice-President of the Board.  
  • In 2023, we invited another person of color to the Board who had served on our Junior Board for several years.  She accepted and is one of our most active board members today.

Throughout the last few years, we have continued to discuss and learn together, at Board meetings and at staff meetings, where and how racism and white privilege are showing up in our work and in our organization. Our staff has made great efforts to analyze our work and to ensure that we are prioritizing work that addresses the injustices communities face when it comes to water. We have developed our Water Rally agenda with JEDI at the forefront, as well as the topics and people and communities featured in our Southern Exposure films.  

See Me In Nature

Watch this 2022 Southern Exposure Film, and meet a few of Alabama’s Black environmental leaders, activists, and historians who are currently shaping their community and providing long overdue awareness of the roots of the work. Featuring appearances from ARA Board members!