Mitchell named Health Care Without Harm’s 2022 Environmental Health Hero
Harold Mitchell, ReGenesis Community Development Corporation founder and executive director, is the recipient of Health Care Without Harm’s highest honor, the 2022 Environmental Health Hero Award. Mitchell is being honored for his leadership in healing communities through climate justice, equitable health care, and community resilience initiatives.
A native of Spartanburg, South Carolina, Mitchell’s journey was rooted in the fight for his own health and that of his family and neighbors in the industry-impacted Arkwright community, which contained two Superfund sites and four brownfield sites.
In 1998, Mitchell founded the ReGenesis Project as a grassroots effort to formally recognize and clean up the contaminated sites. Today, ReGenesis Community Development Corporation has grown into a public-private partnership focused on equitable health care and housing outcomes across Spartanburg through economic development. This work started with support from a $20,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant, which has been leveraged into $300 million invested into the community.
The ReGenesis model for collaborative problem solving has been adopted by the EPA and has been a source of inspiration internationally including in Taiwan, South Korea, and South Africa.
“As the health care sector moves upstream to take on the conditions in the communities we serve, it is critical that we partner with community leaders who have the lived experience and the knowledge of what the community needs to heal – what the community needs to thrive,” said Gary Cohen, founder of Health Care Without Harm. “Harold is someone who had been working for several decades to clean up his community and rebuild it so it can thrive. His work and the organization ReGenesis has become a leading light in the entire south and the country for empowerment and renewal.”
Mitchell served 12 years as a South Carolina state representative, is a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and the Evergreen Action advisory board, and was a founding signatory to the Equitable & Just National Climate Platform.
When accepting the award, Mitchell recounted his experience as a frontline member of an environmental justice community. His advice on how he started his journey: “Start at your own front door.”
Mitchell received the award during Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm’s annual CleanMed conference, where he also was featured in a panel discussion on racial and health equity work within climate justice and resilience initiatives in health care.
Mitchell shared how he approached local leaders in health care and government to fight for the people in his community made vulnerable by inadequate policies to protect their health.
“When you say the word ‘justice,’ automatically it’s like saying ‘racism.’ It’s something no one wants to talk about. Initially, it was a pushback until they saw the results of keeping people out of the emergency room,” Mitchell said.
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