Waves of Change: Meet Environmental Justice Public Advocate Regina Strong

Waves of Change: Meet Environmental Justice Public Advocate Regina Strong

Waves of Change is an online interview series highlighting the diverse faces and perspectives shaping the environmental justice movement across the Great Lakes region.

This month, we spoke with Regina Strong, Environmental Justice Public Advocate at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

For anyone in Michigan, there are two important and timely takeaways from the interview:

In 2019, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer created the position of environmental justice public advocate. Regina Strong, a “strong” first-time candidate for the job with more than 30 years of experience, previously led the Sierra Club’s Michigan Beyond Coal campaign and served as executive director of Community Development Advocates of Detroit, which helps build affordable housing in the city.

Originally from East Cleveland, Ohio, Strong’s most influential role in environmental justice came during her time with the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club. Strong worked with other social justice pioneers like Rhonda Anderson, who introduced her to principles like the Jemez, and Theresa Landrum, who also serves on the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (MAC-EJ) and the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART). Monica Lewis-Patrick, who has previously been interviewed on Waves of Change and whom Strong calls a “water warrior,” has also been a major source of motivation for Strong.

“A lot of people make a distinction between environmental work and environmental justice work, and unfortunately, that still happens a lot,” Strong said. “The reality is that people are the ones who need to be at the heart of it, and who’s impacted — no one should have an impact. But if some people have more impact than others, we need to be able to manage that. And so people who see that connection, whether it’s from an academic perspective or other perspectives, really motivates me because that’s at the heart of this role.”

Strong says some of the most pressing environmental and public health challenges come down to where people live. Considering the historical context of why people live where they do is also central to her work. Proximity to industry and water quality are major concerns she often hears from the public.

“It’s so ingrained in the place,” Strong said.

Given that Michigan is a Great Lakes state and home to the Motor City, Strong believes the intersection of the state’s beautiful nature and its industrial history makes it home to powerful environmental justice advocates. Even the creation of a state office like the one she currently serves in—it’s the first environmental justice advocacy office in the country—shows the pioneering potential for environmental (and human) protection in the Great Lakes state.

To learn more, listen to the full interview hosted by Great Lakes Now host Anna Sysling.

Find more news on Great Lakes Now:

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Featured Image: Regina Strong, Environmental Justice Public Advocate. (Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy)