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SPP Alum Appointed as Maryland’s Inaugural Environmental Justice Officer

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image of trees and the scales of justice
Photo by Adobe Stock

Changing the World One Community at a Time

headshot of Mariah Davis
Photo by Dave Harp, Bay Journal staff photographer

In our society, the air we breathe should be a common denominator among all people, yet for many Black and Brown communities, that is far from reality. Instead, these marginalized communities find themselves stripped of their fundamental right to clean air and access to nature due to racial and socioeconomic disparities. They are disproportionately impacted by environmental injustice, burdened by air pollution, toxic contaminants and the relentless impacts of climate change. With the cruel irony that one’s zip code can directly correlate with life expectancy, Mariah Davis MPM ’20 is leading the charge to grant universal access for all Marylanders to clean air and nature.

Recently appointed as the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ first environmental justice officer, Davis is committed to addressing environmental justice issues across the state. Reflecting on her personal journey and the significance of her new role, Davis shares that when she first entered the environmental policy space a decade ago, there were not many other queer Black women, but that dynamic has been slowly shifting. Recognizing the extent of systemic racism and discrimination in environmental policy and decision making, the work became personal to her and was the primary motivation for her career path.

It’s important to meet people where they are, lead at the speed of trust and ensure everyone has a seat at the table.
Mariah Davis MPM '20

Davis’s appointment comes at a crucial time, as environmental justice issues gain prominence nationwide. Emphasizing the importance of transparency, equal representation and fairness in addressing these issues, Davis remarks, “It’s important to meet people where they are, lead at the speed of trust and ensure everyone has a seat at the table.”

As she reflects on the valuable skills learned and knowledge gained during her time at SPP, Davis emphasizes the importance of exploring one’s interests and passions within the field of environmental policy. With a multitude of job opportunities and a diverse range of required skills, she encourages people not to shy away from taking risks.

As part of her responsibilities, Davis advises Josh Kurtz, Maryland secretary of natural resources, on  environmental justice issues, facilitating meaningful dialogue and action between policymakers, government agencies and affected communities. She will forge connections between communities and grant opportunities, as well as various resources aimed at promoting well-being in a sustainable environment.

Davis emphasizes the importance of addressing access issues, particularly for Black, Brown and low-income communities. From access to our environment and public funds to technical support and decision-making processes, Davis is eager to spearhead the introduction of new environmental justice policies on behalf of the agency, and working to ensure community input is a central focus.

Highlighting the historical injustices faced by these communities and the need for commemoration and recognition, Davis shares, “Not only is it important to remember who our natural resources belong to, it’s imperative we commemorate Black and Brown people who are a significant part of our history along the way. We can’t move forward without knowing where we came from and our connection to the land and water.”

In her new role, Davis aims to collaborate with marginalized communities in Maryland, advocating for their needs and concerns. Given the countless socioeconomic and racial hurdles encountered by many Black and Brown communities, she emphasizes the critical importance that her recommendations effectively address community needs.

Drawing from her education and experience, Davis highlighted the value of the skills she acquired during her time at the School of Public Policy. She noted that she often reflects on the knowledge she gained, particularly from courses in negotiation; policy and government; leadership and culture; and economics. “My degree was the perfect mix of learning the skills needed to navigate complex policy challenges while being both an effective leader and manager.” 

Davis takes pride in her past initiatives, including her collaboration with the late Congressman A. Donald McEachin on the Environmental Justice for All Act, which is the nation’s most comprehensive environmental justice legislation. Working alongside McEachin, she helped to dismantle a campaign which spread false information about the benefits of fossil fuels to Black residents. More recently, she was honored by Congressman John Sarbanes for their work to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Davis wants people to know that her door is always open and encourages people to reach out to her. 

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Megan Campbell
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
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