Lead-tainted water: What Newark can teach US about investing in safety
The Cary Edwards Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding commitment to improving quality of life and promoting smart growth in New Jersey through sustainable land-use policy and practice.
New Jersey Future is proud to honor Yvette Jordan with the Cary Edwards Leadership Award for her service in community education, government, and advocacy; and her commitment to smart growth and resilience in New Jersey. The Cary Edwards Leadership Award recognizes individuals who have an outstanding commitment to improving quality of life and promoting smart growth in New Jersey through sustainable land-use policy and practice.
Born and raised in New York City, Yvette Jordan is a high school history teacher in the Newark public school system, and is a lifelong activist for social and environmental justice. “My passion is in engaging communities to find their voice,” shared Jordan. “I started organizing when I worked for the City of New York as a youth coordinator to help youth service and social organizations advocate for resources to fulfill needs within their communities.”
After the end of apartheid, Jordan spent two years working as a consultant on governance with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in South Africa. She also organized international public policy conferences with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and African universities in Johannesburg, South Africa and Harare, Zimbabwe. These experiences shaped her young adult life, leading her to social justice education in her career, when she became a high school history teacher.
In addition to her passion for education, Jordan is known for being outspoken about the effects of environmental justice on urban centers, taking a particular interest in educating her community on the importance of advocating for safe drinking water. “It took me years to understand how families face obstacles in advocating for themselves. Serving as an educator in Newark taught me that social justice is an educational process. By reaching students you can reach parents, and by extension serve the broader community,” said Jordan. She also worked in local government for over 20 years, as well as the NYC Mayor’s Office for Children and Families as a policy analyst, focusing on youth services for the Dinkins Administration.
On her website, Jordan writes of her motivation to be an advocate for environmental justice, saying, “I am a resident of Newark. I’m a wife, parent, and homeowner who felt it was important for someone to stand up and speak for those who can’t or will not. I feel it is important for me as a Black woman to step up; we all need to step up.” Her commitment to speaking out against injustice and her dedication to advocacy have allowed Jordan to make significant contributions to social and environmental justice in New Jersey throughout her career.
In Newark, Jordan began her activist career as a founding member of Newark Education Workers Caucus (NEW Caucus), made up of educators committed to fighting for social justice issues within education. She is also a fierce advocate for environmental justice in New Jersey, with her early work in the environmental justice movement focused on the Newark lead water crisis. Jordan, with the NEW Caucus, took part in a lawsuit against the City of Newark related to the lead in water. Yvette Jordan’s work embodies the intersection of health and environment in New Jersey, truly exemplifying and centering resilience in all of her work.
Jerry Epstein, a senior trial attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council and lead lawyer of the Newark lead water case, spoke of Jordan’s capacity and courage. “She took a lot of flak in the beginning because sometimes when you call out a local government, they can get defensive and attack the messenger. It took a lot of courage. It’s great that she can go to other communities now and say ‘Stick to it. It may be bumpy for a while, but it can work in the end.’”
Jordan’s leadership in environmental justice policy is evident to all those who know of her and her work, including with Lead-Free NJ (LFNJ), where she serves as Advocacy Coordinating Committee chair and a member of the steering committee. Jordan has also participated in many conversations and meetings in Washington D.C. on lead in drinking water and environmental justice, including a meeting with Radhika Fox, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator.
Heather Sorge, program manager of Lead-Free NJ, spoke to Yvette’s involvement within the effort to get lead out of the state. “LFNJ is thrilled to have Yvette as our Advocacy Coordinating Committee chair as well as a Steering Committee member. Her strong leadership and advocacy skills have helped shape the coalition, build capacity, and helped mentor our LFNJ hubs. Yvette’s tenacity and dedication has helped drive policy and empower community members, enabling them to make informed decisions. We could not be prouder to call her our colleague and friend.”