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:
Meet Our Staff Members
Co-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.
Co-Director of Organizing and Policy
Dr. Rania Masri is our new 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. (Incidentally, Rania completed her doctorate from NCSU in 2000, and learned about solidarity activism from her 19 years in NC.)
Sanzari is a disabled qtpoc southern organizer and artist with a background in student organizing who graduated with a B.A. in Gender and Sexuality Studies from Davidson College. They’ve worked on the Asian American Initiative and the Davidson Community Fund and are passionate about rethinking organizing spaces to be sustainable and accessible for disabled and multiply marginalized folks. To them, the environmental justice movement is shaped Black and brown southern organizing traditions and vitally important in building a future and dismantling the white supremacist, settler-colonial, hetero-patriarchal, capitalist systems we live in. As Communications Coordinator, they are excited to build infrastructure that will ensure the legacy of NCEJN’s organizing continues for many years to come. You can find them sitting on their porch swing, reading romance novels, and spending time with their friends.
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 grew up in 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 Associate. In his spare time Richard enjoys cooking, cycling, and playing with his cat Natalie.
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 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 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.
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
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 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.
Founder/Director of Compañeras Campesinas
Organizations in Our Network
NC Climate Justice Collective
Down East Coal Ash Coalition