Building Community Power: on the Frontlines Community Report Back By Ashley Jones

CleanAirNow’s “Building Community Power on the Frontlines Community Report Back and Promotora Celebration” was a night to remember. The celebratory event included speeches from Dr. Elizabeth Friedman, Beto Lugo Martinez and many of the promotoras who work closely with the organization. From the start, CleanAirNow has sought to disrupt and dismantle the environmental racism that impacts communities in Kansas City and the surrounding region.

Unfortunately, the communities that are least responsible for the climate crisis are being hit the hardest by the effects of air pollution. The Building Community Power on the Frontlines Project is the latest undertaking by this front-line organization.

To kick off the night, Magali the event’s master of ceremonies (MC) facilitated introductions and provided background on the Building Community Power on the Frontlines Project. Participants from across the nation tuned into the Zoom event. Dr. Elizabeth Friedman of Children’s Mercy discussed her role as the environmental health expert, talked briefly about her current research project and reiterated the importance of linking health research, advocacy, community and public policy. Dr. Elizabeth Friedman also spoke to the importance of collaboration and accountability in this work.

Next, we heard from Beto Lugo Martinez from CleanAirNow. Although Beto is the leader of the Building Community Power on the Frontlines Project, he amplifies community member’s concerns and strategizes to create sustainable change in Kansas City and beyond. Beto shared a PowerPoint presentation with the group and proudly spoke about the organization’s accomplishments and the installation of additional air quality monitors. Beto reiterated that the organization’s accomplishments would not be possible without the dedication and continued support of the Promotoras. The Promotoras have and continue to be instrumental in this work.

El Centro Inc., with whom CleanAirNow works closely, was well-represented at this event. Erica Andrade, Chief Program Officer at El Centro Inc., detailed who the organization is and what they do. The organization has been around for about 44 years and provides educational, social and economic services for Hispanic families in Kansas City. Attendees also heard from Elizabeth Reynoso, Director of Community Education & Outreach at El Centro Inc. Reynoso stated, “it is important to be involved because we do not have, in Kansas City, any other program that can educate and inform the Latino population about the right to have healthy environmental air around us.” Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, community outreach efforts continued. This speaks to the adaptability and resiliency of both CleanAirNow and El Centro Inc.

Undoubtedly, this work would not be possible without the help of air monitor hosts. Rebecca Brown, one of CleanAirNow’s air monitor hosts, echoed previous sentiments about the importance of this work. In addition, she shared her experience as an air monitor host. She stated, “This program is so much more than an air monitoring network. This is building community power and civic engagement with local citizens providing the vehicle for data collection. This has the power to inform policy.” Without the generosity and participation of individuals like Rebecca Brown, this work would be difficult.

Next, Irene Caudillo, President and CEO of El Centro Inc., spoke to the group. She restated how grateful she is to the Promotoras for their continued work. In many ways, the Promotoras provide the blueprint for community engagement, outreach and relationship building. The Promotoras are seamlessly able to bridge the gap between this work and those most impacted by the effects of air pollution. Rachel Jefferson, a CleanAirNow board member, and advisory member to the Moving Forward Network spoke after Irene Caudillo and recalled how CleanAirNow got its start and why it is so important to have community involvement. Jefferson recalled how much the organization has grown in recent years and commended the organization’s “real actionable interventions to reduce poor air quality.” Collaboration has also been and will continue to be a pillar of this organization.

To end the night, Beto acknowledged many of CleanAirNow’s partners. He thanked them for their continued commitment to this work and beamed proudly about the organizations’ accomplishments while looking forward to future endeavors. Beto shared with the group that the organizations’ work caught the attention of Senator Pat Pettey. Senator Pettey is a proponent of policy change that is driven by community members. As such, Senator Pettey is a proponent of the Building Community Power on the Frontlines Project.


Ashley Jones is a graduate student intern for CleanAirNow. She is currently pursuing both her master’s in Social Work and master’s in Public Health at the University of South California.