From as early as she can remember, Madelyn Collins has been connecting to the knowledge, impact, and work of healing environmental injustices. Originally growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana, Madelyn experienced what the end of the world felt like when her community, home, and sense of self got swept away in Hurricane Katrina. She was eight years old when her family was displaced and had to move in with her grandmother in Knoxville, Tennessee to start over in a new, post-Katrina world. While transitioning to a new space and grieving the loss of home, community, and loved ones over the years, Madelyn came to the core realization that Katrina should not just be remembered and studied for the extreme climate, but it should also be remembered and studied for the extreme environmental injustices that was displayed. Environmental suffering was happening before Katrina, the hurricane just exposed in an extreme way the lack of equitable built environment, lack of empathetic human response, and lack of reliable access to transportation that had been historically established and carried out for generations, especially amongst the most vulnerable populations and communities.
Madelyn understood that saving the environment doesn’t just mean reducing greenhouse gases to prevent catastrophic nature events, but it also meant making sure that the beings who inhabit this world can flourish and live in it now and into the future. Therefore, Madelyn has learned to practice intersectional environmentalism, which is the application of advocating for both the protection and preservation of people and the planet, as humans are also part of the delicate ecosystem of life that cannot be separated from nature.
Since graduating with her Bachelor’s in Communication with a concentration in journalism and electronic media from the University of Tennessee (UTK), she has been striving to include the “People + Planet” model in the environmental spaces she’s worked in. This included completing a practicum as the Outreach Assistant at UTK’s Office of Sustainability (formerly known as UT Recycling) focused on dismantling hyper-consumerist culture to increase sustainability-minded habits and goals on campus. She worked as a Volunteer Coordinator and received naturalist training at Ijams Nature Center where she advocated for and facilitated inclusive and diverse participation in nature spaces to encourage the local community to find connection to their environment. Then most recently, Madelyn did project management work at her local Clean Cities, East Tennessee Clean Fuels, championing equitable access to clean transportation technology, education, and solutions, especially in the area of electrification.
Her recent work with equitable electrification and being near the trailblazing figures and organizations that makeup the space has inflamed her passion to manifest a green, safe, and healthy future for everyone. Madelyn believes for a just and equitable electric transition to happen, there has to be an emphasis on collaboration, community empowerment, and investment and resources going to the people that are closest to the issue. Madelyn is excited to work with the mosaic of lived experiences and communities here in the Southeast to ensure electrification in this region includes people and planet.