Rebecca R. Newberry, an organizer of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York who led successful campaigns against Tonawanda Coke, Amigone Crematory and Battaglia Demolition, and guided another to address the Huntley coal plant’s uncertain future, has been named the organization’s next executive director.
Newberry, at Clean Air since 2011, succeeds Erin J. Heaney, who grew the coalition from a small and primarily volunteer-run organization over the last six years to one of the region’s most prominent environmental groups. Heaney is leaving to begin work in the fall as the organizing director for Showing up for Racial Justice, a not-for-profit that encourages white people to confront racism and help build a more just world.
“The Clean Air board looks forward to continuing our effective organizing efforts under Rebecca’s leadership,” Sean E. Cooney, the board’s president, said in a statement. “We are confident her extensive organizing experience and experience in nonprofit management will usher in an era of new growth at Clean Air.”
Cooney praised Heaney’s work. “She really transformed Clean Air into one of the region’s most effective community organizations,” he said. “Her organizing model of empowering people to speak for themselves is what has made our organization successful, and it’s what will make us remain successful after she’s gone.”
Newberry previously worked with the Rochester Genesee Valley American Labor Federation, spearheading Next Generation United, a coalition that was chosen in 2012 by the AFL-CIO National Council as a model for young labor groups across the country. Newberry was also an organizer for the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley. She holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Canisius College, and a bachelor’s in health science education from Brockport State College.
“I’m excited to move into this position,” Newberry said. “Buffalo is my hometown, and I am happy I get the opportunity to continue the organization’s commitment to our membership, and to continue the tradition of community organizing in Western New York.”
Her appointment was hailed in a statement by Richard Lipsitz Jr., president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.
Newberry, 33, will also assume the role of director of Community Power for Health and Justice, which educates and mobilizes voters around issues of environmental and economic justice.
As organizing director for Showing Up for Racial Justice, Heaney, 28, will work with the organization’s 75 chapters while remaining based in Buffalo.
“Because of the visionary organizing of the Black Lives Matter movement, many white people have woken up to racial justice. I feel we’re in a moment where there is the possibility for real change,” Heaney said.
“I feel so blessed that I have gotten to work here as long as I have with the incredible staff, board and community leadership. I have learned so much. The organization has given me as much as I’ve given it, and I’m grateful.”