The University of Memphis School of Public Health and seven other highly respected universities will partner with nonprofit research institute RTI International after being awarded a $10 million grant from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
RTI will coordinate an environmental justice center “Resource for Assistance and Community Training – Region 4 (REACT4EJ)” in EPA Region 4, which includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and six Tribal Nations.
The University of Georgia, University of Kentucky, University of South Carolina, Alabama A&M University, Florida A&M University, Jackson State University and North Carolina Central University will partner with the University of Memphis and RTI across the Southeast.
The UofM’s effort has been led by Dr. Chunrong Jia, professor of environmental health in the School of Public Health (SPH). The UofM co-investigators include Dr. Ashish Josh, professor and dean of SPH, Dr. Naser Titu, assistant professor of Environmental Health in SPH and Dr. Arleen Hill, professor and chair of Earth Sciences.
“REACT4E is a very important partnership bringing together regional partners to establish an innovative, multidisciplinary, cross sector Environmental Justice Center that will help advance environmental justice by supporting individuals living especially in under-resourced and underserved settings in Memphis and the State of Tennessee,” said Joshi.
REACT4EJ is one of 17 centers selected by the EPA to coordinate a new Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Technical Assistance Center (EJ TCTAC) program to help communities access funding opportunities to advance environmental justice.
REACT4EJ will be jointly led by RTI’s experts in climate, environmental sciences and in transformative research for equity (TRUE). REACT4EJ also builds upon a strategic partnership between RTI and NCCU – the Center for Applied Research in Environmental Sciences (CARES) – that supports health and environmental justice research.
“This partnership reflects UofM researchers’ strong technical capabilities of and commitment to addressing EJ concerns in underserved communities in Memphis and the entire State of Tennessee,” said Jia.
RTI will use the $10 million grant to serve communities throughout the EPA Region 4. REACT4EJ will provide training and assistance to build capacity for navigating federal grant application systems, writing strong grant proposals and effectively managing grant funding.
“The region has a diverse racial and socioeconomic makeup and several environmental challenges that disproportionately impact underserved communities and communities of color,” said Dr. James Harrington, a research chemist at RTI and co-director of the EJ TCTAC. “Some of those challenges include low air quality, contaminated drinking water, coastal flooding, access to healthy food and living spaces and access to resources to address these issues.”
In addition, the center will provide guidance on community engagement, meeting facilitation and translation and interpretation services for limited English-speaking participants, thus removing barriers and improving accessibility for communities with environmental justice concerns.
“We will hold listening sessions and networking events in rural and remote areas to connect community organizations and leaders with government officials and subject matter experts in climate resilience, alternative energy technologies and environmental exposures,” said Dr. Janelle Armstrong-Brown, a research public health analyst at RTI and co-director of the EJ TCTAC. “Our network’s partnerships and efforts will help provide money to under-resourced, under-served communities and help them to develop the skills to address environmental injustices in the long-term and live longer, healthier lives.”