Meet Three Gen-Z Activists Who Are Fighting for Environmental Justice

These young eco warriors are ahead of their time.

Environmental justice organizer Chloe Desir poses under Newark’s Jackson Street Bridge, which has become a trash dumping ground.

Environmental justice organizer Chloe Desir poses under Newark’s Jackson Street Bridge, which has become a trash dumping ground. Photo: Chris Buck

No community in the Garden State is immune from rising temperatures and extreme weather caused by global warming. But residents of marginalized neighborhoods are often doubly oppressed, subject also to pollution from power plants, runoff from pavements, a lack of green space, and illegal dumping. Meet three members of Gen-Z who have grown up with these problems and are fighting to fix them, in their regions of the Garden State and beyond.

[RELATED: How an NJ Nonprofit Is Tackling Pollution’s Disproportionate Impact on Minorities]

Chloe Desir


Elizabeth native Chloe Desir recalls passing her city’s port on the way to the mall and being struck by its noxious odor. Inspired to work for social justice, she majored in political science at Rowan University and became an environmental justice organizer with the nonprofit Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark.

At 24, Desir organizes community events and door-knocking campaigns to raise awareness about potentially harmful proposals, such as Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s plan to build a fourth power plant in Newark. She connects with activists in other states trying to pass environmental justice bills, and is a presence at Newark’s City Hall and the Statehouse.

Desir cites New Jersey’s groundbreaking Environmental Justice Law, which requires the state to evaluate facility applications for their impact on overburdened communities, as progress. Her experiences have led to a new perspective on Elizabeth’s olfactory offenses. “Now I say, ‘It’s environmental racism you’re smelling!’”

Jermaine Brown


Jermaine Brown

Jermaine Brown Photo: Courtesy of Jermaine Brown

Camden native Jermaine Brown traces his commitment to protecting waterways to a freshman earth sciences class he took at UrbanPromise Academy. He enjoys being on the water so much, in fact, that when he was in high school, he was a canoeing guide on the Cooper River—despite not knowing how to swim.

In June 2022, hoping to raise awareness about the importance of keeping Trenton’s rivers clean, Brown co-led a six-day kayak trip organized by the Upstream Alliance and the Camden County Parks Department. The goal: Find the Cooper River’s source. “A lot of people have the Cooper River in their backyards and think it’s a stream,” says Brown. The journey, which traced the artery to its narrow beginning in Gibbsboro, was captured by PBS in an award-winning documentary, Search for the Cooper River: A River Hidden in Plain View.

Brown continues to fight for clean water. “When I see someone littering in the park, I tell them, ‘This will be washed into the river when it rains,’ and they pick it up,“ he says. He would like to see more emergency water reservoirs along local roads to keep potentially polluted water from flowing into the Delaware and Cooper rivers. Now a freshman architecture student at Morgan State University, he says that every building he designs will have a green roof and solar panels.

[RELATED: How to Enjoy New Jersey’s Wild and Scenic Rivers]

Raghav Akula


Raghav Akula

Raghav Akula Photo: Lors Photography

Even as a high school freshman, Raghav Akula was ahead of his time. In January 2020, he launched a petition to ban single-use plastics in his hometown of Moorestown and garnered enough signatures before the pandemic shut everything down. Later that year, New Jersey passed the strongest single-use bag ban in the nation, which, he says, “thrust New Jersey to the front of the environmental conversation.”

As a sophomore, Akula became the Sierra Club’s New Jersey Youth Climate Alliance student liaison, and as a senior, he inaugurated a youth committee to help turn out pro-environment voters in the 2023 state elections and endorse legislators with favorable voting records. While still in high school, he also provided regular commentary to the Jersey Sierran and put out a podcast about the clean-energy revolution through Duke University.

Now a freshman at Georgetown University, Akula edits articles by climate change professionals in the Georgetown Journal of Academic Affairs.

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