Building momentum: Lessons from frontline advocates & government leaders

Structural racism in land use, infrastructure, and lending policies have physically divided and damaged communities of color and denied generations opportunities for wealth-building.

Frontline community and advocacy organizations, frequently led by people of color, have fought these discriminatory practices and policies as well as their de facto effects for years, often with little support from federal, local, and regional governments. However, the current administration has dedicated an unprecedented amount of federal funding that directly supports community-led efforts, but structural challenges remain for communities and non-profit organizations to access funding to support community and advocacy-led initiatives.

This panel will explore the lessons and points of view from a wide range of stakeholders, including grassroots organizing groups and non-profit organizations focused on supporting low-income communities and communities of color, the role of youth advocacy in retroactively trying to right the historic wrongs of our countries pasts, and insights provided from the government’s perspective.

Check out the full Equity Summit agenda

Meet the panelists

Nimotalai Azeez

Nimotalai Azeez (she/her) co-hosts the Four Degrees to the Streets podcast, a show designed to empower anyone curious about places and spaces, not just persons with professional degrees or backgrounds. She is an urban planning and policy expert based in Washington, DC. In her current role within the public sector, Nimotalai manages transportation grant programs and leads initiatives to address the needs of historically under-resourced and marginalized residents. She has extensive knowledge in state and local budgeting and performance management for transportation, environment, and regulatory agencies. In addition to her professional experience, Nimotalai holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and a Master’s in City and Regional Planning from Rutgers. She is also a Certified Public Manager®. Views are her own.

A blue, green, and white graphic centers a square photo of Jacqueline, who is wearing a gray t-shirt with green font that says South River Watershed Alliance. Her hand is on one hip and the other is adjusting her baseball cap as she smiles at the camera with trees behind her. Her title, Board President and Environmental Justice Advocate with South River Watershed Alliance is is under her name in bold aligned at the bottom left in black text. At the top left, she's introduced as a mainstage panelist for Day 2 in white, bold text. Smart Growth America's logo sits in the bottom right corner in white.

Dr. Jacqueline Echols

Dr. Jacqueline Echols is an environmental justice advocate and board president of the South River Watershed Alliance, an organization working to protect the South River and adjacent forest ecosystem in metropolitan Atlanta. She has worked for more than two decades of work to improve water quality in Atlanta’s waterways and protect the city’s tree canopy.


Gov. Parris Glendening

Former Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening, PhD, MA, served as President of Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute and as a senior advisor to the organization. Glendening speaks across the country and around the world about smart growth, sustainability, global climate change, transit oriented development, and equity. He regularly addresses environmental advocacy groups, business leaders, professional organizations, and public officials.As governor of Maryland (1995-2003), Glendening created the nation’s first Smart Growth program.


Rhea Goswami

Rhea is the founder and current Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Coalition. In her role at EJC, she leads a team of young individuals to create intersectional environmental justice based solutions for disadvantaged communities. She also does outreach on behalf of EJC, creates and nurtures their partnerships and oversees the educational initiatives. Rhea is currently studying at Cornell University, where she hopes to use computers, artificial intelligence, and computer vision for societal good. She also is an incoming First Responder and Drone intern at MTIRE.



The Equity Summit gathers housing, transportation, and community development advocates and leaders to learn from one another and identify tools to advance racial equity through smart growth. The dynamic two-day program will be held in person for the first time on March 27-28, 2024, in Washington, DC, at the iconic Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.

The Equity Summit will uplift strategies to advance racial equity in smart growth amidst growing political uncertainty in 2024 and beyond, as well as a shift away from explicit equity initiatives by elected officials, state agencies, and the private sector.


Learn more about the Equity Summit


Advancing Racial Equity Events