By Aisha Balogun
Last year, I decided to pursue a master of urban planning in hopes of gaining expertise in a subject that matters to me. After three months as an Environmental Justice Fellow with the Moving Forward Network (MFN), I now enter my second and last year of study with a meaningful and nuanced understanding of what it means to be an expert.df
Most of my work with MFN supported two projects. For one, I developed technical resources for MFN members about the potential risks and challenges of hydrogen as a fuel source. I, alongside my supervisor Molly, worked with nine scientists, policy analysts, and researchers to produce a three-page fact sheet, drafted maps that illustrate the potential reach of hydrogen infrastructure, and established the groundwork for a presentation. All these materials aimed to inform local decision-making by providing information about hydrogen to grassroots groups and community members.
My second major project was drafting a literature review for a national conference and a peer-reviewed journal article about community-based participatory research (CBPR). CBPR is an orientation to reach that urges academics to collaborate with community members at every stage of the research process. For this task, I synthesized over 20 resources covering several disciplines like social movement theory, public health, and social work.
Both projects shaped my understanding of how mainstream academic knowledge interacts with community members. Through my work with hydrogen, I witnessed how important it is to empower frontline communities by providing information shaped by their lived experiences. Through my research in community-based participatory research, I learned of projects where academics supported local capacity for environmental change by uplifting community knowledge and facilitating venues for collaborative problem-solving.
While my time with MFN is not quite over yet, I conclude my summer fellowship experience with a deep appreciation of the power of connecting mainstream institutions and community groups toward power-sharing and co-creating local solutions.