Standing for Justice First

Why I’m Going on Tour with Reverend Leo Woodberry

Every once in a while you meet someone who has a profound influence on your life — a person who helps you see things differently and inspires you to take on new challenges. Last year, I was fortunate enough to meet Reverend Leo Woodberry at the People’s Climate March in Washington DC. He had organized a delegation of over 600 citizens from communities on the front-lines of environmental destruction in the Southeastern US to attend the march. He insisted that Dogwood staff and volunteers with our forest protection signs march with them.


Over the course of the rest of the year, Leo and I would see each other at various press events, rallies, and conferences. We became good friends, sharing stories, food, laughs, and even walks in the woods.

Equally as important, we shared a vision – a vision for a better future for the South.

We had hours of conversations about all of the polluting industry in the South, our region’s long history of land exploitation and its relationship to poverty and race.

As daily news reports reflected a nation becoming more divided, seeming to have lost its moral compass and hope for the future, our talks inevitably came down to one simple truth:

All the issues we are facing come down to one word – justice.

Justice is defined by the dictionary as meaning fairness, equity, honesty, and morality.

Leo said, “We should do a tour together, organizing our networks and people in the communities to inspire a grassroots solidarity movement and talk about a new vision for the region.”

The seed for the Justice First Tour was planted.


On April 14th the New Alpha Development Corporation and Dogwood Alliance, with the support of Sierra Club, GreenFaith, US Climate Action Network, and dozens of environmental groups, justice organizations, and faith leaders from across the South will launch the Justice First Tour in Raleigh, NC. This tour, which will span 8 states and 13 cities from April until August will lift up the voices of many of the communities most impacted by climate change, forest destruction, pollution, and other forms of injustice.

This tour will build a more intersectional, diverse movement working in solidarity to stop climate change and ensure that everyone has clean air and water as well as a safe, healthy, and beautiful place to live, work, learn, and play.

Most people don’t immediately think of forests when thinking about climate or justice issues in the South even though the South is the world’s largest wood producing region with a rate and scale of logging that is four times that of South American rainforests. Increasingly, scientists are pointing to the critical need to, not only transition away from fossil fuels, but also to let forests grow if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Accelerated growth in the forest industry over the past century has left our region’s forests degraded, while rural communities struggle with high poverty and unemployment.

Low-income people and people of color across the South disproportionately suffer from higher than average cancer, asthma, and other health problems due to pollution from industrial factories (e.g., power plants, paper mills, oil refineries, and waste dumps). The fact is, polluting facilities are a lot more likely to be sited in low income communities and communities of color. Many of these same communities are hit the hardest by recent extreme flooding linked to climate change, which has left many homeless or otherwise financially burdened after having to flee their homes and jobs.

Photo: Marie D. De Jesus

Our Southern communities are currently facing a new wave of dirty energy projects, including offshore Atlantic drilling, the construction of new gas pipelines, and the rapid expansion of wood pellet mills that are polluting the air and destroying forests to produce fuel to generate electricity in Europe. Government at every level and across political lines continues to ignore climate science and put corporate interests above the interests of the people.

While we are all impacted, low income communities and Black, Indigenous, and people of color bear the brunt of the direct impacts, their voices of resistance too often falling on deaf political ears.

It’s a simple fact, and it’s not ok.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. The South is a beautiful region with a culture as rich and diverse as its forests. Out of a tumultuous history of slavery, discrimination, and prejudice came the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, which propelled our country forward in its ideals of liberty, equality, and justice for all. Today, we must face the reality that we still have not lived up to the principles of justice and equity upon which our country was founded.

It’s time to expand the movement for justice in the South, rising up to the challenges of the 21st Century and working in solidarity for an equitable and just economy focused on clean energy, healthy communities, and the protection of nature.

Together we are a powerful force of change that, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., can once again bend the long arc of the moral universe towards justice.

I hope to see you with your neighbors, friends, and family at one of our tour stops.

For, our strength and our ability to do our best work, just like a forest, lies in our diversity and willingness to work cooperatively in support of the greater good for everyone.


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