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Black History Month Biographies

Bernard J. Rivers

Brenard J. Rivers

Bernard J. Rivers is the director of the Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). managing and overseeing more than 320 ECOs and staff members. He was appointed by Commissioner Basil Seggos in 2018, after serving as acting director for eight months. Rivers has more than 38 years of law enforcement experience, having spent more than 28 years as an Environmental Conservation Officer (ECO). Rivers began his law enforcement career as a New York State corrections officer. He also served as a part-time police officer in the Mount Hope, Wallkill, Chester, and Montgomery police departments. Rivers graduated from DLE's 9th Basic School in 1992 and served in several positions as an ECO in Long Island, New York City, and the Hudson Valley, including as a uniformed officer, Investigator, and as both a regional lieutenant and supervising captain. Rivers is a graduate of SUNY Empire State College and the FBI National Academy. He is also a 1981 graduate of Minisink Valley High School and a father of two adult sons. Rivers is also a proud grandfather. He resides in the Hudson Valley.

The oldest law enforcement organization in New York State, ECOs were first appointed as Fish & Game Protectors in 1880. In addition to enforcing all laws of the state, Rivers' staff focuses on fish and wildlife poaching; illegal sales of endangered species; water pollution; policing the commercial fishing and timber industries; emissions enforcement; illegal mining; and issues that affect our air, land or water quality.

Peggy Shepard

Peggy Shepard

Peggy Shepard is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, and has a long history of organizing and engaging Northern Manhattan residents in community-based planning and campaigns to address environmental protection and environmental health policy locally and nationally. She has successfully combined grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy, and environmental health community-based participatory research to become a national leader in advancing environmental policy and the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities - to ensure that the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment extends to all. Her work has received broad recognition: the Jane Jacobs Medal from the Rockefeller Foundation for Lifetime Achievement, the 10th Annual Heinz Award For the Environment, the Dean's Distinguished Service Award from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, and Honorary Doctorates from Smith College and Lawrence University.

Aaron Mair

Aaron Mair

Aaron Mair was the first African American president of the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization founded by preservationist John Muir in 1892. He was elected president of the organization on May 16, 2015, and served through May 20, 2017. Prior to becoming president, Mair spent more than three decades advocating for environmental and public health protections. He held many leadership positions in the Sierra Club since becoming a member in 1999; founded the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation, which was a member of the White House Council on Environmental Quality from 1998 to 2000; and founded, served as board member, and lectured at the W. Haywood Burns Environmental Education Center New York's Capital Region. In 2000, Mair received an EPA Environmental Quality Award for his advocacy on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) cleanup in the Hudson River. He is also credited for being the catalyst for the environmental justice movement in Albany in the 1980s when he first mobilized residents in Arbor Hill, a predominately black community, to successfully shut down a garbage incinerator after a decade-long battle.

Currently, Mair works for the New York State Department of Health as an epidemiological-spatial analyst. He is a graduate of Binghamton University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in History and Sociology and a certificate in Southwest Asia and North Africa Studies. Mair also trained at Rhode Island's Naval Education and Training Center and attended the American University in Cairo.

Omar Freilla

Omar Freilla

Omar Freilla is the founder of Green Worker Cooperatives and creator of the academy model of cooperative development. He has a knack for blazing trails and a passion for community self-determination, personal transformation, and creating solutions to social injustice. Freilla has over 13 years of experience in cooperative and green business development, with an equal number of years as an organizer challenging environmental racism, classism, and sexism. He was a founding board member of both Sustainable South Bronx and the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, and a founding advisory board member of the Democracy at Work Institute and the Story of Stuff Project. He co-curated the NYC portion of the BMW Guggenheim Lab, a project of the Guggenheim Museum. His writings have appeared in numerous books, blogs, and articles, and he has been featured in several documentaries, including Leonardo DiCaprio's environmental documentary, "The 11th Hour."

Freilla has received numerous awards for his work, including the Rockefeller Foundation's Jane Jacobs Medal for New Ideas and Activism, and has been included in various "Power 100" lists published by magazines such as Ebony, Essence, and The Root. Freilla holds a master's degree in Environmental Science from Miami University of Ohio and a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College, where he also founded the organization Black Men for the Eradication of Sexism.

Yusuf Burgess

Yusuf Burgess

Yusuf Burgess was an environmental champion whose mission was to expose as many urban children as possible to the outdoors. As a trailblazer in the work to make the Adirondacks more open to young people of color, Brother Yusuf - as he was called- lent his expertise and advice to the work of creating a symposium, "Towards a More Diverse Adirondacks." Burgess discovered his love of nature as a child growing up in Brooklyn and playing in Prospect Park. He understood that the evolution to a more inclusive Adirondacks begins with children. He wanted to give urban children the same opportunities he had, so he took them hiking, fishing, kayaking, etc.

Burgess was the coordinator of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's Capital District Campership Diversity Program at the time of his death in December 2014. He previously worked at Green Tech High Charter School and the Albany Boys and Girls Club, and founded a nonprofit group that helped former prison inmates re-enter society. He also started Youth Ed-Venture and Nature Network to help take inner-city children on trips into the wild. Before his death, Burgess was married to his wife Cherrie for 45 years.

Lisa P. Jackson

Lisa P. Jackson

Lisa P. Jackson is currently the vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple. She was the first African American administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), serving from January 2009 to February 2013. President-elect Barack Obama nominated Jackson to serve as Administrator on December 15, 2008. She was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 23, 2009 and took office that same day. During her tenure, Jackson oversaw the development of stricter fuel efficiency standards and the EPA's response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; authorized the recognition of carbon dioxide (CO2) as a public health threat, granting the EPA authority to set new regulations regarding CO2 emissions; and proposed amending the National Ambient Air Quality Standards to set stricter smog pollution limits.

Jackson started at EPA as a staff-level engineer in 1987. She spent the majority of her 16-year career there in EPA's regional office in New York City. In 2002, she joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as assistant commissioner of Compliance and Enforcement and assistant commissioner for Land Use Management. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine appointed Jackson as the state's Commissioner of Environmental Protection in 2006. Jackson also briefly served as Corzine's chief of staff in late 2008. She was born in Philadelphia and is a graduate of Tulane and Princeton universities.

Dr. Robert D. Bullard

Dr. Robert D. Bullard

Dr. Robert D. Bullard is often described as the father of environmental justice. He is a former dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University (TSU, 2011-2016). Dr. Bullard currently is a distinguished professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy. Prior to his career at TSU, he was the founding director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He received his Ph.D. degree from Iowa State University and is an award-winning author of 18 books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, disasters, emergency response, and community resilience, smart growth, and regional equity. He is co-founder of the HBCU Climate Change Consortium. Dr. Bullard is a proud U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Dr. Bullard was featured in the July 2007 CNN People You Should Know, "Bullard: Green Issue is Black and White." In 2008, Newsweek named him one of 13 Environmental Leaders of the Century, and that same year, Co-op America honored him with its Building Economic Alternatives Award (BEA). In 2010, The Grio named him one of the "100 Black History Makers in the Making," and Planet Harmony named him one of "Ten African American Green Heroes." His book, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality (Westview Press, 2000), is a standard text in the environmental justice field. In 2013, he was honored with the Sierra Club John Muir Award, the first African American to win the award. In 2014, the Sierra Club named its new Environmental Justice Award after Dr. Bullard.