Meet Alyssa Rayman-Read

The new Vice President and Director of CLF Massachusetts brings a depth of experience in reducing inequalities, enhancing the rights of vulnerable communities, and building bridges amongst unlikely allies.

Ashira Morris | @ashiramorris

What drew you to social justice work?

Social justice has been a guiding force since I was a kid. My mom was a professor and my dad a psychologist, both with deep roots in social change communities and grassroots organizing. We had intense dinner table conversations with graduate students, professors, activists, and us kids about the best way to make a positive impact on the world. An ongoing debate was whether to be a radical outsider or to work inside the system. So I began seeing the world around me as a place to engage with and impact from a very young age.

Also, I went to a Quaker school here in Massachusetts – Cambridge Friends School – that emphasized Quaker principles including non-violent, pacifist approaches to resolving conflict and critical-thinking skills. There, I learned how to be a constructive, active member of a community – how to question authority, take a principled stand, and honor my own “inner light” while staying committed to the collective good, understanding that everyone deserves to have dignity about their identity. The school wasn’t afraid of conflict or divisions; we were encouraged to have conversations about white privilege, identity politics, and how to move forward when things get uncomfortable. I remember we once stopped regular lessons for three days so the school community could meaningfully and inclusively address a particularly challenging controversy!

These early models at home and in school taught me not to shy away from conflict, but to be respectful and utilize conflict as something productive. They also set me on a path: I now reference these attitudes and frameworks about social change in my legal, communications, and dispute resolution work in a career aimed at achieving more social justice.

How will your experiences with labor and civil rights issues translate to your work at CLF?

Environmental justice is inextricably intertwined with social justice, but it’s not always thought of in those terms. I want to help create urgency and understanding around environmental rights and issues.

Environmental rights contribute to how we live our lives through the energy we use and how we produce it, commuter patterns and workplace safety, where we throw our garbage and waste, and where we play. Our environment plays a huge role in how we feel and how we form communities. It’s a disservice to see environmental issues as siloed from other advocacy – I’d like to help break down some of those siloes through my work at CLF.

How does that lens impact your approach to environmental advocacy?

I want to help people see the bigger picture and think outside the box about how we can best move the needle – let’s think broadly about how to involve people and organizations working for social change in our work at CLF. Those who may not start off thinking in terms of environmental rights – how do we pull their energy in and pool our resources, create new and diverse constituencies, and launch bold ideas based on an inclusive process.

An important part of that work is listening to the people who are impacted by environmental injustices. We must go beyond our roles as advocates, litigators, and campaigners; we have to be “reacher-outers,” making deliberate efforts to widen the scope of our message.

What connects you to New England?

Growing up here, my family spent a lot of time camping and hiking. We’d go to the Cape in summer and spend time in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine in the winter. I feel very committed to the whole region. We’re lucky that Boston is a great urban city that also has easy access to the most beautiful oceans, mountains, and wilderness.

When I hiked the Appalachian Trail – where I met my husband! – starting down in Georgia and making my way north, I kept saying to people I met that I was walking home. When I got to New England, I felt I was walking with my mountain friends, my rock friends, my tree friends. I was connected to them – it was my own topography. Now raising my own family here, I feel that connection even more deeply.

How did thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail change you?

I went out on the Appalachian Trail after a death in my family to have a safe place to grieve and reconnect with myself. I wanted to do that somewhere I could hear myself breath and feel part of something larger and more meaningful – somewhere away from the concrete world and the “go, go, go” of my technologically saturated life.

That experience underscored that a fundamental part of being human is neglected in our society right now because we don’t spend enough time outside. We don’t see ourselves as part of nature, as part of the animal kingdom. We’re closed off. And this fictional sense that we are separate from our natural surroundings makes it easier to denigrate our environment. You don’t have to hike the AT for six months to reconnect with nature, but spending time outdoors, whether in a city park or the mountains, makes us better people, better communities -– physically and mentally. That’s why I’m committed to helping people find ways to connect to the natural world.

Learn more about Alyssa.

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