Jerilyn Johnson Promotes Environmental Justice for a Healthier Future 

Jerilyn Johnson is the Chief of Staff of Greenpeace USA, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness of global environmental problems and creating transformational change.

Promoting social good was a core value for Jerilyn from a young age. Growing up in rural Texas, Jerilyn spent a lot of time playing outside. 

“I was raised in nature,” she says. “My dad was big into agriculture. He would find leaves on the ground and teach us how to tell which type of tree it came from. That’s how we were raised and I want to preserve that for future generations.”

Jerilyn’s dad worked for the USDA Soil Conservation Service helping to protect drinking water from industrial farming and roadway projects. One day, Jerilyn realized that her family never drank tap water and, after asking her dad for an explanation, he said the water was unsafe and contained carcinogens.

As Jerilyn got older, she asked her dad why they never told anyone else in their community about the unsafe tap water. The water was legally safe, he explained, and as a Black man who began working for the government in the 1960s, he had to work within the role he was given and focus on supporting his family.

“That was the moment when I realized that our government is not going to save us, they’re going to keep us legally healthy enough so that we don’t die fast. We have to save ourselves,” she shares.

Rooted in Faith  

Everything Jerilyn learned from her father eventually led to her career at Greenpeace. However, she initially got an economics degree and worked in finance before going back to school to study human capital management.

“If you’re in a hard situation and you’re doing work that doesn’t align, it just makes it even harder. That’s how I felt in the big accounting firms,” she says.

Jerilyn felt more connected to HR because this role allowed her to help make people’s lives better. She worked in HR at Greenpeace for a few years before working her way up to her current role as Chief of Staff.

“In any role that I’m in I try to think about how can I add value, make people’s lives better, make our work move more smoothly and ultimately deliver a stronger value for our mission, for our donors and the folks that support us,” she explains.

While Jerilyn is passionate about the work that she does, it comes with many challenges. 

“I’m a person of faith and I think that’s where a lot of the ability to move through some of the challenges of, not just nonprofit work, but the issue that we’re working on [comes from],” she shares. 

Jerilyn believes that when a few dedicated people come together, they can push the narrative in the right direction.

“Greenpeace is for anyone who wants a healthy environment for themselves, for their family, people they care about. The work that we do is only possible through the support of the people who do it with us,” she says.

 Her Advice? Focus on Work That Aligns With Your Values

Success in the environmental justice space doesn’t happen quickly and there are often more losses than wins. However, Jerilyn knows that even losses can have a positive impact in raising awareness and she is proud to tell her loved ones that she is working for change.

“Get really comfortable with failure, because on the other side of failure, there’s victory,” she says.

Throughout her career, Jerilyn has learned how to recover from setbacks and believes the key to professional satisfaction and good mental health is finding work that aligns with your values.

“If you’re in a job or in a situation that’s already kind of set, understand why you’re there and what value you want to add to that organization so that you have your own sense of self-esteem and your own sense of intrinsic motivation,” she shares.