CLIMATE ACTION VIRGINIA SPOTLIGHT: Hairstylist by day, environmental justice activist by night

Oct 1, 2021

Aida Amirul

Renada Harris is a professional hairstylist, business owner, and fierce community activist. Situated near the infamous Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, Renada’s salon was in the bounds of a protest hotspot in the wake of racial violence events of summer 2020. Witnessing calls of justice in action through the windows of her salon inspired her to fight in preserving the historic lands and environmental treasures of Brown Grove against threats of industrial gentrification.

To Renada and her sister Bonnica, the fight for environmental justice is a personal one. The two sisters are long-time residents of Brown Grove, a rural town 17 miles North of Richmond, Virginia and home to descendants of freed slaves. The land holds cultural, historical and practical significance to the community. Yet Brown Grove continues to suffer the brunt of the health and economic impacts of pollution as multi-million dollar corporations pad their pockets at the cost of destroying pristine lands and depriving the community of essential resources — a classic tale of environmental racism.

Renada dedicates hours on end between her career educating herself about the complicated institutional procedures to overturn development projects in her neighborhood. The Brown Grove Preservation Group, founded by Renada and Bonnica, is run by nine core members actively pushing back against government agencies, questioning the permitting process and ensuring that long-time Brown Grove residents have a say in outsider projects happening in their backyards. 

Renada emphasizes that she cannot do this work alone and values building and maintaining partnership opportunities with other groups in similar fights. She encountered Climate Action Virginia during the 2020 elections voter outreach campaign and has since been in touch and involved with the team. 

The partnership between Climate Action VA and the Brown Grove Preservation Group has expanded opportunities for both groups. In addition to learning more about climate justice herself, Renada expanded the support system for her community through opportunities with LCV and Climate Action VA.

“LCV has helped us tremendously through brainstorming and helping us as a group get organized and hosting town halls for us. We would not have gotten as far as we have without them.”

As a leader in the movement, Renada underscores the importance of bringing the issues of environmental injustice to the forefront of people living in these communities. In too many instances, corporate polluters and developers have operated in communities like Brown Grove — and it’s no coincidence.

“We need to be aware of what happens in our institutions that affect our communities; we cannot just sit back and watch our neighborhoods change and do nothing about it.”

Renada’s strength and perseverance in the fight for environmental justice in her community is incredibly moving and is helping to hold polluters accountable by demanding action. Our team at Climate Action VA is committed to supporting our local communities like Brown Grove in achieving the long-overdue justice they deserve.


To support or learn more about the work by Brown Grove Preservation Group, get in touch with them here

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