This is Our Moment
March 21, 2023|Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, Vice President of Strategy, Communities First Fund
I am the daughter of Patience and mother of Joy, who both gifted me with virtues that define my present outlook on what it takes to advance transformative change.
I was born during the global warming era of the 1980s and became a parent during the climate crisis conundrum. President Biden’s executive order to address climate should be a clarion call to leaders, recognizing that transportation remains the single-largest contributor of U.S. carbon emissions and driver of dirty air pollution, particularly in Black and brown communities. As transportation leaders, how we adapt and respond to the challenge will require all of us to do our part. To advance a more just and resilient transportation system, we must address past harm and withstand the projected impacts of climate change today and in the future.
I was raised during the third wave of the feminist movement, which focused on political activism and advocacy to expand civil rights and social equality for women. I built my career upon the living legacy of many dynamic women who paved the way, like Carmen E. Turner, former General Manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). She was the first African-American woman to lead a major public transit agency and nearly forty years later, I would serve on the WMATA Board of Directors as the only woman, person of color, and transit rider for the majority of my tenure on the board. Advocating for institutional reform to address the intersectional barriers of sexism, racism, and classism remains our plight and fight.
During my time of service on the WMATA board, I centered those most impacted by our decision for all deliberation matters. I championed the Board’s Transit Equity Framework—advancing several policy changes to help the agency navigate unprecedented service and fare changes due to the pandemic, management challenges, and response to racial and social inequities facing the region and nation. I was taught by leaders like Dr. Beverly Scott how to advance racial equity and fight for racial justice—recognizing that color-blind racial ideology will never allow us to see the humanity of black lives.
If current and past public investment trends remain the same, patterns of segregation, concentrated poverty, and displacement will fail to meet the needs of America’s increasingly diverse population. However, there is an opportunity to disrupt the status quo and produce better outcomes for everyone. We can tackle the challenge through intentional action. We must seize the moment before us, working with leaders at scale to advance systemic change strategies, community-centered projects, and solutions.
The “once in a generation” Bipartisan Infrastructure Law was signed into law the week I was preparing to return from maternity leave. I honestly struggled with the idea of returning back to work and remained surprised by the shift in my professional priorities. However, as I held my then six-month-old daughter, I realized that I had to do my part to ensure that federal programs delivered on their transformative promise maximizing the potential benefits for her future and our nation. I co-envisioned the Communities First Infrastructure Alliance announced by the White House last spring to advance community-centered plans, racial equity practices, and climate resilience principles to meet this moment for the greater movement.
Ultimately, our existence will be based on our perseverance to examine our individual and collective impact. We may be able to go the distance if we work at scale, elevate comprehensive solutions, centering those most impacted by the challenges of our industry, and resist accepting the status quo. This is our moment to be the light bearers for this generation and the next.
Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins champions public policy solutions that promote economic, social, and environmental benefits for communities. Stephanie is a WTS-DC Chapter member and founder of North Star Strategies, an equity consulting practice. Most recently, she was on the board of directors for the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) and served as a former Obama Presidential appointee at the U.S. Department of Transportation.