“When you drive away from Houston’s center, you see nothing but fumes and contaminants going up into the air we breathe on a daily basis. Even at night, the yellow glow of the fumes is magnified. I wonder whether for the children living around these industries the sight of the fumes is so normal that they think that this is how clouds are made. Can you imagine? A cloud factory! Poisonous clouds, hovering over communities where racism, lack of education, and food scarcity are overwhelming. Nobody in their sound mind would say that it’s okay for people to live like this.”  – Yvette Arellano, youth organizer, t.e.j.a.s. Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services

The Gulf South Rising initiative has educated, trained, and assembled thousands of people throughout 2015 to raise awareness and take action around the effects of climate change and ecological extraction.

The participants of the Gulf South Rising initiative have organized a 33-person delegation from the region (TX, LA, MS, AL, FL) to travel to Paris from November 30-December 6, 2015 to share their unique Gulf South perspective with global communities on the frontlines of climate change.

“As members of the Gulf South Rising delegation, it is our duty to represent the frontline communities of this region. The GSR delegation should go to Paris because it is our responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless. We should stand for the communities of this region that have for generations been systemically marginalized and veiled from the systems of democracy in America. As social movement leaders, we must acknowledge that Paris is a movement building moment, and continue to build our movement’s momentum.” – Troy Robertson, New Orleans native and youth organizer

As the effects of climate change continue to hit peak levels of catastrophe, global leaders have been promising a new climate agreement through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference Of Parties (COP). This year, the UNFCCC/COP 21 is happening in Paris, France from November 30-December 11, 2015 to negotiate a legally binding agreement on climate change anticipated to be signed by world leaders from 195 countries.

In a moment when the world stands with the families who have experienced tragic violence in Paris and in many other countries, we made a commitment to stand together in the face of uncertainty and insecurity. The Gulf South Rising delegation hopes to connect our shared struggles around environmental violence happening here in the United States with our global counterparts. Delegate Yvette Arellano, a youth organizer from Houston, Texas who organized a major action at the BP headquarters on the 5th anniversary of the Gulf Coast oil disaster says, When people think about big polluters they often turn their attention to China and India, and turn a blind eye to the problems in their own back yard. In the name of the economy we are willing to let extractive industries run loose. We tacitly accept that “progress” inevitably will require some people to suffer and bear the burden of pollution. How can we prioritize some lives over others? The fight for environmental justice is about basic human rights; this is about everybody having the right to clean air, clean water, education, and food security.”

The climate talks in Paris mark a significant turning point, where the world will be watching and thousands will be taking to the streets to demand that affected communities are heard. Gulf South Rising has organized to put frontline communities in the center of this global focal point to deepen our relationships and alliances to build towards action, campaigns, and movement building efforts in 2016.

“We have a moral and ethical obligation to address climate change. There are real consequences, and there is real suffering. We have an obligation to other human beings, to other species, and to the Earth itself to change our actions so we can minimize, alleviate, and hopefully eliminate the worst of the effects of climate change. We are not motivated by fear; we are motivated by the imperative to do the right thing,” says Mary Gutierrez, an environmental chemist and planner and founder of Earth Ethics based in Florida.

COP 21 is an opportunity to hear the voices of frontline communities bearing the brunt of the climate and economic crisis, and the corporate practices that drive the climate crisis. The Gulf South Rising delegation includes native New Orleanians and Louisianans who have been displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, cultural bearers and artists, educators and entrepreneurs, attorneys, youth organizers active in social justice issues, and the National Climate Justice Chair of the NAACP.


  1. To offer stories of Gulf South communities around the impacts of climate change to formal and informal spaces at the COP21.
  2. To capture stories of Global South communities impacted by climate change to Gulf South and to network with other frontline community members from outside the US to find out what is happening in places around the globe.
  3. To bring back stories from communities of the Global South and lessons learned from attending CoP21 to your Gulf South community.

“So often in conversations around climate change, communities of the Gulf Coast get overlooked, even in the U.S, because there is a misperception that we do not care about climate change or believe it exists. It is important for us, as Gulf South Rising, to be in Paris and show that there are people in the Gulf coast that do care and do want a change. We want our voices heard. We have a responsibility to advocate for and implement changes, we are ready to accept those responsibilities. We are ready for action.” – Mary Gutierrez, delegate and environmental chemist based in Florida.  

Follow the delegation on twitter @gulfsouthrising #gulfsouthrising

Our Delegates

Chief Thomas Dardar

Principal Chief, United Houma Nation

Thomas Dardar Jr. is the Principal Chief of the United Houma Nation Tribe located in Southeast Louisiana. He is a long-time member of the United Houma Nation Tribal Council. Thomas serves on the Teche Action Clinic Board of Directors, the Terrebonne Parish Council on Aging Board of Directors, Bayou Blue Volunteer Firefighters Board of Directors, a Volunteer Firefighter and First Responder for the Bayou Blue Area, and he also proudly wears the bonnet of Indian Santa, a tradition that was started in 1985 by Joe Dardar, when Hurricane Juan devastated the Houma Indian communities along the Gulf Coast. Together with Toys for Tots, Chief Thomas and his family travel to the different communities delivering toys to hundreds of children who wait all year for that special event. Noreen Dardar is the first Lady of the United Houma Nation.

Mary Gutierrez

Executive Director, Earth Ethics Inc,

Prior to creating Earth Ethics, Inc, Mary Gutierrez worked as an Environmental
Planner. She was also Program Manager for the Bay Area Resource Council, Committee for a Sustainable Emerald Coast, Partnership for Community Programs, Regional Utilities Authority, and a 
regional Brownfields Program. She has been responsible for public outreach and environmental education workshops. She has also worked with public officials and the general public on topics such as air quality, water quality, land-use management, and smart-growth practices. Ms. Gutierrez was an intern with American Environmental Network as a wet chemist analyst while obtaining her Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Science. Ms. Gutierrez has a Master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Sustainable Community Development. She has worked as an environmental chemist at Law Engineering and Environmental Services and Severn Trent Laboratories. Prior to working as an Environmental Planner, Ms. Gutierrez worked for the Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) Wetland Resource Program and the Department’s Air Resource Management Program.

Juan Parras

Director, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S)

Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S) is built on the work of Director, Juan Parras, who has been organizing environmental justice communities since the signing of executive Council, and has served on many other boards such as the Gulf Restoration Network and National Childhood Order 12898 in 1994. Juan was an original member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Lead Prevention Program, and the Center for Health and Environmental Justice (CHEJ). He is currently an Environmental Justice Ambassador for the Gulf of Mexico Alliance. Juan received the CEC Synergy Award in 2008, and the Sealy Center for Environmental Health & Medicine HERO Award in 2009.

Colette Pichon Battle, Esq.

Executive Director/Attorney, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy

Colette Pichon Battle, Esq. is a native of Louisiana who, over the past nine years, has worked with local communities, national funders and elected officials around equity in the post-Katrina and post-BP disaster Gulf Coast. In 2007, Colette received recognition from the American Bar Association and in 2008, she was awarded the U.S. Civilian Medal of Honor for the state of Louisiana; both awards were for her work around multi-racial, cross regional alliance building in the Katrina recovery. In 2012, Colette was named an “Expert of Color” by the Insight Center for Community Economic Development on issues that surround the U.S. racial-wealth divide. In 2014, Colette was selected for the Young Climate Justice National Fellowship based on her work with coastal communities of color. In 2015, Colette was selected as an Echoing Green Climate Fellow and was named recipient of the US Hum Rights Network Movement Builder Award.

Currently, Colette serves as director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) managing programs focused on Global Migration, Community Economic Development, Climate Justice, and Equitable Disaster Recovery. Colette also serves a lead coordinator for Gulf South Rising.

Yvette Arellano

Youth Organizer, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S)

Yvette Arellano is a youth organizer in Houston Texas. She works with TEJAS on issues that engage the Latino community in environmental justice work and collaboration throughout the Gulf South region. Yvette was a lead organizer for Gulf South Rising events in Houston around BP 5.

Tyrone Henry

Tyrone Henry is a native of New Orleans and the director of Nfungotah, Inc. In 2015, Brother T was a lead organizer of Gulf South Rising’s K-10 events in NOLA. In 1992, nicknamed DJ “Diamond T” Tyrone began touring the Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi region with other local DJs such as DJ EZ Money, DJ Mannie Fresh, and DJ Wop. In the last two decades Brotha T has circled back to his roots in drumming and percussion, first being exposed to the Garifuna music of Honduras, and for more than a decade studying the music and folklore of Guinea, Senegal and Mali, West Africa under former Les Ballet National du Sénégal director Abdoulaye “Papa” Camara. Working with the Young Audiences, Brotha T has developed a ‘holistic’ K-6 grade African-derived drumming and percussion curriculum. This curriculum continues to be used as he teaches through Young Audiences and various Orleans Parish schools. It was out of these long standing creative collaborations, services, and products that Nfungotah Inc. was conceived.

Tabitha Mustafa

K10 Event Organizer: Katrina X Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Tabitha Mustafa is NOLA Program Associate at American Friends Service Committee. She works with youth and community-based organizations in the New Orleans area to develop and expand relationships and alliances to other networks organizing youth of color around social justice issues. Tabitha responds to the needs and concerns of young people by developing and implementing initiatives that meet community needs in partnership with community members, volunteers, and community-based organizations. She develops local capacities so that the youth community can use its skills and collective voice to work for change, including advocacy for policy change. youth and community mobilization, advocacy and empowerment.

Jennifer Crosslin

Community Organizer, MS Steps Coalition

Jennifer Crosslin joined Steps recently in June 2014 to work as a community organizer for an environmental justice campaign in Pascagoula, Moss Point, and Bayou Casotte. She has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has over nine years of experience working with several different university and community organizations with a special interest in advocacy and social justice. As a graduate student, she worked at the Center for Policy and Resiliency and the University of Southern Mississippi on the Gulf Coast, and as a research assistant on an economic impact study of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. She has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross for over five years and currently serves as a disaster services instructor. Jennifer is also a board member for the Boys and Girls Club of the Gulf Coast

Eric Harrison

Eric Harrison is a native of Louisiana directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil drilling disaster. Eric attended Millsaps College in Jackson, MS before coming to work with the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy as the Sustainable Project Manager. In 2015, Eric was named the CJA Just Transition Fellow and was a lead organizer for all 2015 Gulf South Rising events, focusing on youth involvement. Eric now leads training events around just transition for the Gulf Coast.

Asia Rainey

K10 Event Organizer: Rhythmic Alchemy

Asia Rainey is an artist of spoken word poetry, music, theatre, television, and visual arts. She is the Executive Director of WordPlay New Orleans, an organization dedicated to the preservation, education, and community support of spoken word poetry. Asia has performed as a poet and speaker at the Amnesty International Annual General Meeting, New Orleans Jazz Fest, Seattle BiLocal Fest, and many others. She is also founder/owner of the Oya Market, a retail space created to support the economic development of over 50 local entrepreneurs and artists.

Monique Michelle Verdin

is a native daughter of southeast Louisiana. Her documentation offers an intimate window into Louisiana’s indigenous Houma Nation, exposing the complex interconnectedness of environment, economics, culture, climate, and change challenging the bayou communities of her homeland. Monique is a documentary photographer and filmmaker who’s created a cinematic labor of love titled “My Louisiana Love,” which tells about the long legacy of cultural and environmental injustices in the state from a Native American perspective.

Troy Robertson

is a native of Louisiana and a student at Bard College in NY. In the summer of 2015, he interned with Gulf Restoration Network and became a lead organizer for Gulf South Rising’s K10 Youth Movement Assembly.

Craig McGraff

is a native of New Orleans. He is a writer/critic at Art+Design and founder and CEO of So Called Media. Craig is on the Gulf South Rising lead facilitation team and is a leader in the Take Em Down NOLA movement to contend with blatant racist images throughout New Orleans.

May Nguyen

was born in Louisiana after her parents and older siblings escaped Vietnam in a fishing boat, the same route taken by many other families in their East New Orleans community. She learned community organizing in Katrina’s aftermath by shadowing the charismatic pastor of her Catholic parish, which created a nonprofit corporation that she helped build to provide emergency relief, temporary housing for more than 3,000 residents, and economic recovery for the New Orleans area small business corridor. After the BP Oil Spill, May campaigned alongside fishing communities across coastal Louisiana to demand recognition and calculation of lost subsistence use.

Kamalah Fletcher

is Senior Director of Community Engagement at Catalyst Miami. Kamalah is a social entrepreneur. Her 18-year career in the nonprofit sector has been devoted to pursuing an equitable society where all people can live with respect and dignity. She develops and pursues strategies, both within Catalyst and through community partnerships, to promote programming that involves constituent engagement and public policy advocacy. Kamalah serves on several boards and advisory committees. She specializes in building private-public partnerships and nonprofit management and leadership.

Emilia Aguinaga

is Director of Programs at GCCLP. Emilia Aguinaga holds a Master’s in Science of Public Health, with a double concentration in environmental health and development. As an Ecuadorian who has lived in Louisiana for the past ten years, Emilia contributes a deep-seeded respect for cultural plurality as well as extensive experience in education, and organizing in Louisiana around environmental justice issues. Emilia has been actively involved with GSR and will be supporting the GSR delegation to Paris.

Mary Pichon Battle

is a native of Slidell, LA, displaced to Texas for the last ten years by Hurricane Katrina. She is a 45+ year teacher of French and Spanish in Louisiana and Texas Public schools. Mary is member of a French-speaking Creole community of Southeast Louisiana and in 2015 was an organizer of Gulf South Rising K10 mobilization the Dallas/ Fort Worth area.

Emma Collin

is Senior Project Manager at GCCLP. With a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology and background in student organizing around climate and justice issues, Emma Collin was excited to work with Gulf South Rising from the beginning. Emma is based in New Orleans and is helping to coordinate Louisiana GSR meetings, offer support around media and press, and support the GSR delegation to Paris.

Robert DesMarais

was a high school teacher for 33 years. He is a leader within the First Unitarian Church of New Orleans. Robert is a native of Southwest Louisiana’s French-speaking Cajun community and a local justice and environmental activist. Robert is a tutor in French and Latin and is a member of the Gulf South Rising-Louisiana facilitation team.

Flozell Daniels,Jr.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Flozell’s history of community service dates back to his childhood. In his current role as President and CEO of the Foundation for Louisiana (formerly the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation), he is responsible for leading the Foundation in its mission to invest in people and practices that reduce vulnerability and build stronger, more sustainable communities across Louisiana.

Ife Kilimanjaro

represented GGJ in working groups in the lead-up to the CJA activities during the UN Climate Summit (Lima Peru, 2014) and advance work for the successful implementation of goals and programming, including coordination of GGJ delegation to New York and preparation of international allies; coordinated 13 person delegation to the People’s Summit in Lima, Peru, including logistics coordination, educational preparation, organizing meetings and workshops and coordinate the post-Summit report out. She is currently part of the Internal Support Team (Aug 14 – present) – Assisting in coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of strategic plan; providing support and political leadership in the planning and coordination of convening, workshops, panel presentations, etc.; aiding implementation of research plan. In 2015, Ife was a member of the Gulf South Rising Lead Coordination Team, coordinating 13 events in 9 days across 3 states.

Stephanie Guilloud

is the Co-Director of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide based in Atlanta, Georgia. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Stephanie is a community and movement organizer who for the last five years has been instrumental in developing and practicing the Peoples Movement Assembly process in the U.S. South and across the country. As anchors with the Southern Movement Assembly (SMA), Project South and the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy organized the fifth SMA as part of the Katrina 10 Week of Action on Congo Square. Stephanie was a member of the Gulf South Rising Lead Coordination Team, supporting a year of events, educational forums, assemblies, and actions including the SMA Organizing Intensive, an interactive movement training for 60 people in Uniontown, AL in July 2015.

14 additional delegates from frontline communities are also traveling with the Gulf South Rising delegation: Ruth Story, Chinasa Porter, Erik Elshire, Kaydrianne Young, Kevin Roberts, Maria Victorie, James Hartwell, Chris Lang, Grace Morris, Renate Heurich, Shiv Srivastava, Chris Landon, and students from Tulane University.