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Chicago Frontline Funding Initiative: Supporting Environmental Justice Advocates on the Frontlines

As a young boy growing up on Chicago’s North Side, Antonio Lopez, Jr. tagged along with his activist parents to labor and education organizing meetings. His house was always filled with a buzz of activists planning and talking about making positive changes in their communities.

Just about everyone he knew was involved in some sort of advocacy or grassroots organizing work, so it was a natural move when Lopez’s education and career led him to get involved with empowering communities seeking environmental justice.

“One day it just clicked,” Lopez said. He quickly pieced together how achieving social justice needed to both provide equitable access to healthy food and the opportunity to grow that food in unpolluted neighborhood gardens. Equity, according to Lopez, must mean better health outcomes that can only be achieved when your backyard and neighborhood aren’t polluted with disease-causing toxins.

That’s why Lopez is helping build the Chicago Frontlines Funding Initiative (CFFI), a coalition of neighborhood-based environmental justice organizations and partners working together to develop solutions for low-income and working-class communities degraded by health, economic and environmental issues.

“Chica­go has a long lega­cy and amaz­ing envi­ron­men­tal justice community.”

— Antonio Lopez, Jr.

Launched in 2020, CFFI aims to build lasting bridges between philanthropists and community-based environmental justice groups. It has created a fund to specifically address the needs of these participants in their quest to achieve environmental and social justice. Lopez was named the organization’s project director in 2021.

Resident-driven activist and advocacy groups have long been the underdogs in their fight against businesses and corporations that harm and pollute marginalized communities.

“Chicago has a long legacy and amazing environmental justice community,” Lopez said. "They have been doing this work forever. Their expertise is unparalleled.”

In addition to the hard work of knocking on doors, educating their neighbors, organizing protests, and lobbying policymakers, these organizations need to have enough people, tools, relationships and financial resources to affect meaningful change.

“These community-based environmental justice groups have been under-resourced for years,” Lopez said. “People in Chicago are finally realizing that it's time to provide resources to these organizations. And it’s long overdue that environmental injustice in communities be addressed.”