Pig waste from an industrial hog farm polluting a nearby water source. These pollutants spread and are even sprayed into our communities, causing widespread environmental damage and public health problems which violate our civil rights.

The Problem

All individuals and groups of people should live in a safe and healthy environment. However, because of their race, ethnicity, and income, many North Carolinians have been subjected to living in unsafe environments. This is environmental injustice!

Environmental injustices exist because many businesses, government agencies, and other organizations in positions of power have discriminatory practices and policies. This is what it means when something becomes “institutionalized.”

Environmental injustices occur not only in our backyard, but also at the state, national, and international level. Thus, environmental injustice is everyone’s problem.

Read our full Principles of Environmental Justice here.

Our Mission, Vision, Values:

“To promote health and environmental equality for all people of North Carolina through community action for clean industry, safe workplaces and fair access to all human and natural resources. We seek to accomplish these goals through organizing, advocacy, research, and education based on principles of economic equity and democracy for all people.”

Meet Our Staff Members

Dr. Chris Hawn

Dr. Chris Hawn

Director of Research and Education

Dr. Chris Hawn is the Co-Director of Research and Education. Chris is an environmental scientist who specializes in making science accessible to all. Growing up in the desert, their love of the environment is rooted in the southwest and blossomed in the southeast. They received their Ph.D. in zoology at NC State in 2015. Since then they’ve been learning grassroots organizing skills to apply to the field of public science with the vision of science that supports accessible and liberated futures.

Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson

Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson

Director of Infrastructure and Development

Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson is a scholar/activist. She had experience connecting undergraduate and graduate students, especially at HBCUs, with community groups working on health equity and environmental justice issues. Dr. VJ works locally, nationally, and internationally to preserve cultural and historic heritage through service on several statewide and non-profit organizations, including the NC African American Heritage Commission (as Chair), NC Historical Commission; Preservation NC (as outgoing board chair) and National Registry Advisory Committee. Promoting public participation in science research as a board member for the Association for Advancing Participatory Sciences and through grants funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation is a core aspect of DJ’s ongoing activist work.

Dr. Rania Masri

Dr. Rania Masri

Director of Organizing and Policy

Dr. Rania Masri is NCEJN’s Co-Director of Organizing and Policy. Rania Masri been an activist and organizer since 1993, and a professor and researcher since 2005. She has taught interdisciplinary environmental sciences, environmental justice, and communications at the University of Balamand, American University of Beirut, and the Lebanese American University, respectively. Prior to her move to Lebanon in 2005, she was the Director of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies in North Carolina  (2002-2005).  Throughout, Rania has worked to bring a holistic lens to the environment, and a recognition that environmental management must encompass a human rights and social justice practice and is, in and of itself, a struggle for full citizenship. In essence, it is all a question of environmental justice. Her research and activism have centered on anti-sanctions (Iraq)/anti-war (Iraq, Afghanistan), anti-occupation & anti-apartheid (Palestine), environmental justice (water and food sovereignty; pollution; land rights), and civil and voting rights. She served as an expert in the Court of Conscience during which she presented testimony on the environmental impact of the 2006 Israeli War on Lebanon, and as a juror in the Merchants of Death War Crimes Tribunal (2024). (Incidentally, Rania completed her doctorate from NCSU in 2000, and learned about solidarity activism from her 19 years in NC.)

Katarina Caskey

Katarina Caskey

Organizing & Community Support Manager

Katarina (“Kat”) fell in love with nature at a young age growing up in rural South Carolina. She moved to Spring Lake, NC in 2006 and received a Carolina Covenant scholarship to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. There she organized with campus workers and assisted with community based participatory research projects for social and environmental justice while earning a degree in Communication. Her previous work experience includes organizing and research with NC Raise Up, the Ella Baker Women’s Center in Chapel Hill, and the NC State AFL-CIO. In her spare time, Katarina enjoys foraging fruits with her partner, baking, and playing with her cat, Maxwell.

Richard Lindayen

Richard Lindayen

Operations Manager

Richard grew up near Charlotte, NC before moving to the Triangle area for school. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2017 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked as a regional organizer for a group campaigning for safe labor contracts in universities’ supply chains. He also helped form a campaign to stop privatization at the university, and a grassroots community coalition that helped students voice their concerns to administrators. After graduation in 2017, Richard worked with a national movement-support organization, first as an intern and later as the National Director of Communications, a role he held for three years. He coordinated projects including videos, infographics, and research reports. Richard loves supporting and enabling the work of organizations to flourish and looks forward to doing more of this at NCEJN as the Operations Manager. In his spare time Richard enjoys cooking, cycling, and playing with his cat Natalie.

Luma Kennedy

Luma Kennedy

Communications Manager

Luma is a Palestinian and an American who was born in Amman, Jordan. She has a BS in Natural Resources Management and Engineering, an MS in Plant Science and Entomology (UCONN), and an MS in Landscape Architecture (NCSU). She is a graphic artist and a storyteller who centers indigenous teachings to connect communities to the land and the creatures that make our lives possible and fulfilling. She combines years of experience as a Medical Entomologist, Environmental Educator and as a Research Associate at the NCSU College of Design to weave narratives that center community and ecological health. Luma is a mother, a knitter, and a backyard farmer.

Aleena Oakley

Aleena Oakley

Sustainability Fellow

Aleena Oakley (she/her) is a recent Johnson C. Smith University graduate born and raised in the Charlotte metro area. She is joining the NCEJN team as a sustainability fellow with SEI’s Climate Corps program and is looking forward to continuing meaningful work with NCEJN. With a passion for environmental sustainability, Aleena has accumulated valuable experience in various sectors, including clean energy, urban farming, and sustainable waste management. Her commitment to creating positive environmental impact and connecting with community members is evident in her work, where she strives to contribute to a greener and more just future.

Naeema Muhammad

Naeema Muhammad

Senior Advisor

Naeema has been Organizing Co-Director with NCEJN since 2013. She’s married to Saladin Muhammad and together they have 3 children, 10 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. They have been married for 52 years and reside in Rocky Mount, NC.

Naeema has worked on two NIEHS funded grants. The first was Community Health and Environmental Reawakening (CHER) in which she served as a community organizer working with communities dealing with waste from industrial hog operations. In this position, she worked with the late Dr. Steve Wing, a founding member of NCEJN and Associate Professor at UNC Gillngs School of Public Health, and was supervised by Gary Grant, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens of Tillery. She has co-authored publications with Dr. Wing regarding community based participatory research (most recently in the New Solutions Health Journal). She also serves on the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Secretary’s Environmental Justice & Equity Advisory Board.

Dr. Dani Lin Hunter

Dr. Dani Lin Hunter

Research Manager

Dr. Dani Lin Hunter is a social scientist with strong foundations in environmental science and community engagement. Her work has focused on ensuring that science operates in service to people and not the other way around. Dani earned her PhD ecology with a human environment interactions emphasis from Colorado State University in 2022. Since then, she has worked at North Carolina State University managing the Crowd the Tap participatory science project that focuses on identifying and addressing lead contamination in household drinking water. She is excited to step into her role as a Research Manager at NCEJN where she can continue to learn about grassroots organizing and pursue a future where science serves communities and breaks down systemic oppression instead of creating it.

Board Members

M. Zulayka Santiago, MPA – Co-Chair

Zulayka is the Founder and Creative Director of Libélula Consulting.  In that role she provides inspiration, instigation, and support for projects focused on equity, social justice, and authentic community engagement. Her commitment is to center love and wholeness to recalibrate power.

Zulayka obtained a Master of Public Administration Degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Certificate in Nonprofit Management.  Her undergraduate degree is in Pan-African Studies from Barnard College, Columbia University. She is a Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity. She was also part of the 06-08 William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations through the Wildacres Leadership Initiative and serves on the Governance Team for Change Elemental. 

Zulayka is a founding member of Earthseed Land Collective in Durham, NC.  In 2018 she also received her Level I Certification through the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership, one small step on her learning journey as an amateur naturalist.  She spends her days nurturing her tendencies towards connection, awe and wonder.

Ajamu Dillahunt Jr. – Co-Chair

Masters/Phd candidate at University of Michigan

Ajamu Amiri Dillahunt is a Ph.D. Student in the Department of History at Michigan State University and an Assistant Editor with Black Perspectives, the award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society. He is a member of Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ) and a board member with the Interreligious Foundation of Community Organizations (IFCO). He is also a former intern with the SNCC Digital Gateway Project at Duke University. In May of 2019, Ajamu graduated from North Carolina Central University with a B.A. in History and a B.A. in Political Science.

Don Cavellini

Pitt County Coalition Against Racism

Don is a founding member of NCEJN and the Public Service Workers Union (UE Local 150). He is also the Co-Chair of the Coalition Against Racism in Pitt County, NC.

Kamaria Kaalund

Kamaria Kaalund is a Policy Analyst for Health Equity at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy. In this role, Kamaria supports health equity research projects, policy analysis, and educational initiatives. Her research interests include community-focused health policy approaches to reduce health inequities and the intersections between neuroscience, environmental health, and policy. 

She is a 2020 graduate of Wellesley College where she earned a B.A. in Neuroscience and Anthropology. During her time at Wellesley, she worked with the: Early Childhood Cognition Lab at MIT on an online child development research platform; at the Computational Cognitive Development Lab at Rutgers University as a summer intern; and then within Wellesley’s Centers for Women National SEED Project to support its goals of creating conversational communities that drive personal, organizational, and societal change toward greater equity and diversity. Outside of work she enjoys writing, playing soccer, and being by the lake. 

Rosa Saavedra

Founder/Director of Compañeras Campesinas 

Sherrod Knox

Organizations in Our Network

West End Revitalization Association
Royal Oak Concerned Citizens Association

NC Climate Justice Collective

Down East Coal Ash Coalition

We are inviting communities to join our network and help fight for environmental justice.