by Tasha Durrett; featured photo by Stu Maxey
Advocacy looks like a lot of things. It can be protesting in the streets or working directly with communities seeking equitable and fair treatment. It can be pursuing public service for the implicit purpose of advocating for a certain group of people. It can also be a combination of all these things.
For Josephus Allmond, a senior associate attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), there have been times when the faces of environmental policy and advocacy didn’t look like him and the voices didn’t sound like his, which makes his status as a leader in solar energy and environmental justice in the state even more crucial.
Environmental justice is the fair treatment – and inclusion – of all people regardless of race, income, or zip code with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Injustices show up in the form of placing polluting industries in Black and brown communities at a rate disproportionate to others. Additional examples of environmental injustice include the lack of clean water in these same communities and/or targeting these communities for mining exploration. Leaving these communities out of beneficial infrastructure developments are also threats to environmental justice. Such developments can include increased green space, electric vehicle charging stations, and funding that would improve access to public transit.
Allmond’s outlook on the journey to his career in environmental justice has always been one of opportunity. From being invited to the inauguration of President Barack Obama while in high school to attending community college to completing law school, he counts every experience he has had and will have as an opportunity to learn, grow, and, when possible, to help others.
“The South hasn’t always been my home. I grew up in different places throughout the country and had the opportunity to experience some lower-income areas and apartment buildings, as well as living with my dad in a home in a more well-off neighborhood,” Allmond said. “All of that has shaped my desire to further environmental and social justice through my professional career and outside of the office.”
This commitment to walking the walk and talking the talk in all aspects of his life can be seen through his work with 100 Black Men of Central Virginia and participation in the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation’s Community Advisory Committee.
Allmond joined the SELC at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the nonprofit’s Glynn D. Key Fellowship, a program for law students and practicing attorneys who have a strong interest or demonstrated commitment to working to advance environmental justice.
Headquartered in Charlottesville, the SELC has offices in six states and Washington, D.C. When Allmond joined the Virginia office he was one of just a few Black attorneys in the organization. Flash forward to the present, and the SELC’s Black attorneys gather every couple of months over Teams, something that Allmond is proud to be a part of.
“We are all proud to be members of the organization, but also excited to be using our field and expertise to advance issues that impact communities like those some of us grew up in,” Allmond said.
Allmond focuses on energy and utilities work and leads solar and environmental justice work in Virginia. Access to clean, affordable energy for everyone regardless of race and zip code tops his priorities. He says the environmental space must diversify if it is to successfully serve communities facing environmental injustice.
“Environmental injustices have disproportionately burdened Black and other communities of color, and areas where residents have lower incomes, especially in the South,” he explains. “Having people in the conservation space who have experienced those injustices firsthand is critical to addressing those very injustices: they can bring their lived experience to the table in ways that traditional members of the conservation community cannot.”
The SELC’s environmental justice initiative is now three years old and focuses on working with client and partner organizations led by people of color, centering issues that impact them.
Also unique is the role Allmond plays as part of the energy team at the organization.
“Clean energy and access to energy alternatives have largely been determined by where you live, and whether you are a homeowner or not. My colleagues and I, along with partners across the state, are fighting to change that,” he said.
Allmond has seen wins and losses in this area, pointing out that last year, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission set the minimum bill for its shared solar bill at $55 per month. Thankfully, low-income customers are exempt from the minimum bill, so they will sign up. But for those who don’t qualify as low-income, that high minimum bill makes the program unaffordable.
“That’s why we worked so hard at the General Assembly this session to reduce that minimum bill amount, so Virginians of all income levels can access the program,” he said.
While Charlottesville is a lot different from Chico, California, where he spent much of his childhood, Allmond says he is finally feeling like more of a resident.
“I find that everyone in this city is navigating so many different spaces,” he said. “I just want to help amplify the voices of those in spaces that I’m able to and help anyone who will listen understand that environmental justice, climate justice, energy justice – they’re all a part of the bigger justice picture that plays out in the courts, through law.”
In his free time, Allmond enjoys life in Charlottesville with his girlfriend and dogs, works out, and attempts to keep up with the city’s food scene.
“I don’t know if I’m a foodie, but I love trying new foods and restaurants and supporting Black-owned businesses around the city,” he said.
What would he like Charlottesville to know about him and the SELC?
“I think there are a lot of Black and other people of color in Charlottesville that have spent their lives being the only one in certain rooms and at certain tables. That’s gradually changing at SELC and throughout this city. I think we can all win at new, inclusive tables built on advocacy and mutual aid. I’m here to help that happen.”