An important announcement from our team: after seven years, our community organizer Ellie Leonardsmith is transitioning out of her role here at the West Side Community Organization. We will miss her and wish her all the best in her future endeavors!
Ellie infused creativity and joy into her work bringing neighbors together for environmental justice and community health. She often talked about her goal as strengthening access to environmental benefits (like access to green spaces, renewable energy, and fresh food) and combating environmental harms (like air pollution and radon exposure).
She played an important role in establishing the Growing Resilience on the West Side coalition, creating multiple communal gardens to expand access to fresh produce. She led neighborhood clean ups, tree-planting days, youth groups beautifying parks, and BIPOC healers teaching medicinal herb workshops. The Cempasúchil (Marigold) project was an especially powerful series of cultural celebrations honoring the land, ancestors, and community connection.
She advocated for strong environmental protections as she served on the Environmental Justice Advisory Council advising the Commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. She gathered testimonies that were part of passing a bill to measure the cumulative impact of pollution– something especially important to neighborhoods like the West Side that have been historically treated as dumping grounds for toxic sites.
Ellie brought an intersectional lens to her organizing that highlighted the connections between environmental justice and racial justice. At the Recreation as Resistance gatherings, Black, Indigenous, and people of color reclaimed space by leading outdoor activities and a healing circle in Lilydale Park, a place where youth of color had been brutalized by police for years with impunity. When the opportunity to join a solar cooperative arose, she ensured access for renters who would benefit from reduced energy costs, and put together a forum on solar energy and racial justice featuring local leaders of color. She created the Good Hearts Gathering series, where BIPOC spiritual and wellness leaders led healing sessions in the community garden on Wabasha Avenue.
She was deeply engaged in WSCO’s broader organizing work, from doorknocking for rent stabilization, to leading the Trans and Queer Community affinity group, to much of the behind-the-scenes planning at our community meetings. Her skill as a professional photographer and artist shone through as she organized community art events and took many beautiful photos of our community– notably, the portraits of elders in the Stories from the Flats series.
“Ellie always shows up as her most authentic self, and we appreciate the many gifts and talents she shares with us every day on the West Side,” reflected Monica Bravo.
West Siders are invited to continue to organize for environmental justice with us at WSCO. Two exciting opportunities coming up are: joining the Solar Cooperative, and guiding the creation of the West Side 10 Year Community Plan.