Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award

2019 Awardees

Celebrating women of color who are building a healthier, safer, and more just world.

Annel Hernandez

Brooklyn, New York

Annel is the associate director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and a member of the NY Renews coalition. She was one of the key players in the passage of New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, one of the most ambitious climate laws in the country.


“Annel’s considerable analytical skills – and genuine commitment to urban environmentalism – are combined with an accessibility, confidence and good humor that improves every team she works with. The political and climate conditions are so dire, yet the possibilities for change are palpable, especially when lights like Annel keep appearing.”

Eddie Bautista

Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance


Annel Hernandez is the Associate Director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance. She works on city and statewide climate policy issues, focusing on local advocacy and research that further equitable investments in coastal resiliency, green infrastructure, renewable energy, and resilient energy systems. She works on various coalition campaigns to push for more aggressive climate legislation with equity as a central focus, and conducts research on the benefits of an integrated climate resiliency approach and develops pathways to implementation in frontline communities.

Annel participates in energy regulatory processes, influences stormwater policies, supports solar project development, and worked to guide the priorities of Federally-funded projects in New York City. She previously worked in the NYC Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity as Social Innovation Fund Advisor managing the program implementation of a multi-city initiative focused on economic opportunity programs, and was a NYC Urban Fellow. She also worked with the Urban Climate Change Research Network at the Earth Institute, collaborating with scholars, experts, and advocates on pushing forward new climate change resources for cities. Additionally, she worked as a Teaching Assistant at the Earth Institute and a Research Assistant at the Institute of Latin American Studies.

Annel received an MPA in Energy and Environment from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and her BA in Political Science and Latino Studies from Fordham University.

Maria Herrera

Visalia, California

Maria is Central Valley deputy regional director of external affairs for the Office of Governor Newsom and an appointee to the California Water Commission. In 2012, Maria led the campaign to pass California’s historic Human Right to Water Bill and is known around the state as an advocate for effective water management.

“Maria’s work has given voice to the voiceless, particularly members of rural, largely Spanish-speaking farmworker communities in California. It is a testament to her tireless efforts over the last decade that policymakers in California now expect to hear from (and frequently even make space for the voices of) representatives from these communities.”

Rose Francis

Former Attorney, Community Water Center


Maria is the Central Valley deputy regional director of external affairs for the Office of Governor Newsom, where one of her primary roles is to act as the regional liaison to local stakeholders, business, community leaders and elected officials. Previously, she was the community development manager of the Community Engagement and Planning team at Self-Help Enterprises, a nationally recognized community development organization whose mission is to work together with low-income families to build and sustain healthy homes and communities. In this role, she led her team to ensure meaningful community participation in California’s water planning and policymaking, as well as implementing an innovative, state-wide grant program that provides solutions for rural schools with unsafe drinking water. Maria’s firsthand experience growing up in farmworker communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley, the world’s most productive agricultural region, has inspired her to dedicate her career to public health and community leadership development.

With a storied career of over 11 years, Maria has tackled water contamination and shortages through community organizing, advocacy, legislation, and technical assistance. By fostering positive relationships among diverse stakeholders that range from local communities, government agencies, rural schools, and regional water management groups, Maria has secured millions of dollars from state, federal, and private sources to ensure communities plan for and implement sustainable water solutions. She launched the visionary Rural Communities Water Managers Leadership Institute, which nurtures community residents to become leaders in regional groundwater management through education, hands-on field experiences, and mentorship.

Among Maria’s proudest achievements is the “Outside the Building” grassroots campaign to pass the historic legislation AB 685: the Human Right to Water Act of California, the first in the nation. Between 2012 and 2014, Maria served as an environmental justice representative on Governor Brown’s Drinking Water Stakeholder Group, a multi-stakeholder task force that develops statewide recommendations to address drinking water challenges faced by disadvantaged communities. Maria participated in an international expert consultation with Catarina de Albuquerque, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation. In 2015, Maria was appointed to the California Water Commission by Governor Brown and was recently reappointed by Governor Newsom in 2019.

Tara Houska

Duluth, Minnesota

Tara (Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe) is founder of Giniw Collective and Not Your Mascots. She is an attorney and former national campaigns director of Honor the Earth, and spent six months living and working in North Dakota fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Follow Tara on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


“Tara is driven by a deep-seated conviction to fight for justice for indigenous people, save the planet from the climate crisis, and protect our air and water for future generations. Tara deserves major national recognition for her work. She has been a pivotal and indispensable leader in the environmental movement.”

Katie Thomas

Senior Policy Advisor for Energy and Environment, Senator Bernie Sanders


Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe) is a tribal attorney, founder of Ginew collective, the former Campaigns Director of Honor the Earth, and a former advisor on Native American affairs to Bernie Sanders. She spent six months on the frontlines fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline, and is currently engaged in the movement to defund fossil fuels and a years-long struggle against Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. She is a co-founder of Not Your Mascots, a non-profit committed to eradicating Native stereotyping.

She has given a TED talk, a keynote at Harvard, received an “Awesome Women Award” from Melinda Gates, and was named an “Icon” on the cover of Outside Magazine’s 40th Anniversary edition. Tara has contributed to the Guardian, Huffington Post, Indian Country Today and been featured on CNN, MSNBC, CBS, Democracy Now, and BBC.

Brionté McCorkle

Atlanta, Georgia

Brionté is the executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters, electing pro-environment candidates and holding elected officials accountable. In 2014, she led the Georgia Sierra Club’s involvement in the successful expansion of Atlanta’s bus system. Follow Brionté on Twitter.


“Brionté is certainly well-deserving of this wonderful award.  She has been a strong leader in the Atlanta environmental community.  And she has brought a bold vision and clarity of mission to her role as executive director of Georgia Conservation Voters. We are thrilled that Brionté is being recognized by Rachel’s Network.”

Krista Brewer

Board Chair, Georgia Conservation Voters


Brionté believes in a healthier, more vibrant future for all people and the planet. She has dedicated her career to teaching people how to self organize and building strategic partnerships that protect the environment, advance racial equity, and grow civic engagement. Brionté earned a B.S. in Public Policy from Georgia State University and minored in Spanish. In 2014, she led the Georgia Sierra Club’s involvement in the successful effort to expand MARTA to Clayton County. Brionté now serves as the Director of the Georgia Conservation Voters where she works to elect pro-environment candidates and hold elected officials accountable for their actions and votes. She also serves as an advisor and consultant to government, private, and nonprofit organizations who are looking to develop internal and external equity practices and advance public engagement campaigns. She is always looking for opportunities to shape public policy for a more sustainable and equitable future. 

Juliana Pino

Chicago, Illinois

Juliana is the policy director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and, in 2016, was the lead negotiator for Illinois’ Future Energy Jobs Act, the most transformative piece of energy system legislation in the state’s history. Follow Juliana on Twitter.


“Juliana doesn’t just walk away after passing legislation, she ensures that it’s implemented and completed. Her dedication to seeing things through also involves ensuring other groups shift one-and-done approaches to policy victories toward long-term implementation. We need more people like Juliana who are fighting to protect our planet.”

Kim Wasserman

Executive Director, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization


Juliana Pino is the Policy Director at the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), a national leader on transformative, justice-focused environmental, social, land use, workforce, and economic policies. Born in Tuluá, Colombia, and raised in both Colombia and the United States, Juliana’s personal life is transnational and her background is interdisciplinary.

At LVEJO, Juliana analyzes, researches, and advocates for environmental justice in local, state, and federal policy. LVEJO campaigns cross many areas of environmental policy, including energy systems, food systems, water quality, air quality, brownfields, toxics, land use, transportation, and others. Her work focuses on: advancing energy democracy and community self-determination in regulatory and policy arenas; creating just transition with meaningful collaborative and participatory management of shared environmental resources; and centering frontline community leaders as generators of transformative policy ideas and governance models. Additionally, Juliana is committed to facilitating and cultivating processes that promote social justice and public health, has experience in multi-party negotiation and mediation, and works to build robust decision-making frameworks that center the perspectives of those most affected by both broader structural oppression and the specific policies being deliberated.

In 2017, Juliana was recognized in Midwest Energy News 40 Under 40 for her work in the transition to a clean energy economy as lead negotiator for low-income programs in the 2016 Future Energy Jobs Act. In 2018, she was named one of Grist’s 50 Fixers for her work in making the world a more just and sustainable place for all. She serves on the Board of Directors of the Illinois Environmental Council, a statewide organization that promotes sound environmental policy and protections for land, air, water, wildlife, and human health. Juliana is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (MS, Environmental Policy and Planning; Environmental Justice), the University of Michigan Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy (MPP, Public Policy Analysis), and the University of Chicago (AB, East Asian Languages and Civilizations). Prior to joining LVEJO, Juliana has contributed to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Great Lakes Commission, and the U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce, among others. Juliana is guided by anti-oppression, is invested in anti-racism movement struggles, and is a big fan of animals.

Heather Toney

Oxford, Mississippi

Heather is the national field director at Mom’s Clean Air Force, where she engages parents committed to fighting climate change and air pollution. She is the former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency and the former Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi. Follow Heather on Twitter and Facebook.       


“Heather is a star, plain and simple. I consider it an honor that Moms Clean Air Force has become part of her journey. Heather is multi-talented and thoughtfully ambitious to make the world a better place—for all of us.”

Dominique Browning

Senior Director & Co-Founder, Moms Clean Air Force


Elected at age 27, Heather McTeer Toney knows what it means to be a public servant. She was the first African-American, first female and the youngest to serve as Mayor of Greenville, Mississippi from 2004-2012. In 2014, she was appointed by President Barack Obama as Regional Administrator for Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Southeast Region. Known for her energetic and genuine commitment to people, her work has made her a national figure in the area of public service, environmental justice and community engagement. She currently serves as the National Field Director for Moms Clean Air Force, an organization of over 1 million moms and dads committed to fighting climate change and protecting children from the dangers of air pollution.

The daughter of a civil rights attorney and public school teacher, Heather was born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi. In 2003, she was elected Mayor of the City of Greenville and re-elected for a second term in 2007. Under her leadership, the city thrived, emerged from significant debt, and received millions of dollars in grants and federal assistance. At EPA, she was responsible for protecting public health and the environment in eight southeastern states, as well as six federally recognized tribes; making Region 4 the most populated and diverse of ten regions. In addition, she led efforts to maintain and enhance the quality of work life for Region 4’s approximately 1,000 employees while effectively managing a budget of more than $500 million.

Heather has served in several roles throughout her career including one of the National Spokeswomen for She Should Run!, a National Organization that encourages women to run for office. She is an expert on environmental and climate justice with SheSource, a publication of the Women’s Media Center and has worked around the world. She is known for advocating and training diverse officials on leadership in over 15 countries including Kenya, France, Portugal, Nigeria and Senegal. She has appeared on news outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and Democracy Now! She has written for and been featured in numerous papers including the New York Times and the Washington Post. She was featured in the May 2005 issue of Essence Magazine as one of the “50 Most Remarkable Women in the World. She is also one of the winners of Marie Claire Magazine’s “Women on Top” awards. Heather is often a guest on various Sirux/XM radio shows and was included in the PBS/AOL documentary entitled “MAKERS”, where she appears alongside noted women such as Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice.

Heather earned a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Spelman College in Atlanta. She earned her law degree from the Tulane University School of Law. Heather is a member of numerous organizations, is an avid athlete that loves triathlons. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and an active member of New Living Way Christian Fellowship church. She is married to Dexter Toney and they have three children.


Marlene Brito-Millán

Addison, Illinois


Brooke Harper

Hagerstown, Maryland


Jillian Hishaw

Charlotte, North Carolina

Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Baltimore, Maryland


Each year, the Rachel’s Network Catalyst Award provides women leaders of color with: a $10,000 prize; networking opportunities; and national recognition within the environmental, philanthropic, and women’s leadership communities.

For more information on the award winners, please email erica (at) rachelsnetwork.org.

Share This